Saturday, March 19, 2016


One a Sunday a few years ago, an old preacher mentioned something that brought him a daring public rebuke. During his sermon he said that he prayed mostly during his once-a-night waking period. He prayed in bed, he said.

"This is when I can concentrate. It's quiet. Maybe because I'm not 100 per cent awake I can bring up concerns from my subconsciousness, deep down inside."

Very stupid of him to have mentioned that publicly, probably, because. . .

. . .a few weeks later, a lay person of the congregation preached to the same people in the same church. This younger person was quite intense about her faith. During her sermon she looked directly at the old pastor: ". . .and  I pray when I'm wide awake, not at night when I'm half asleep!"

In my opinion I'd been rebuked publicly.   I was amazed at her scolding tone,

File:Albrecht Dürer - Praying Hands, 1508 - Google Art Project.jpg

Albrecht Dürer, "Praying Hands," 1508. Public Domain via Wikipedia.

Now, today--after several years of trying to forget that incident--I want to return to the topic. Why do I pray at night? And I write this for all who want to pray effectively.  I hope that this will free you up to pray when, wherever and how you wish. And that you'll dare to go beyond conventional patterns.

Let me share:

  • I have one or two waking periods every night. Around 1 a.m. my internal time clock wakes me ("rings the bell for prayer," I say.)
  • Automobile and airplane noise is quiet. TV and radio are still. My mind/soul/spirit is quiet too.
  • In the quiet and under the covers I use this wake-time to pray for a whole universe of people: my spouse, children, grandkids, and for public servants, social justice activists, friends and former students and former parishioners and former colleagues, my currently-wobbly native land, the peoples of Africa, the Middle East and of Europe. I always pray for myself--forgive my faults, strengthen my virtues, help me with my daily tasks.
  • Here's the key to effective prayer for me. Around 1 a.m. my internal time clock wakens me ("rings the bell for prayer," I say. I have a fairly fertile sub-consciousness that surfaces timely topics for prayer much more freely than my super-ego allows during mealtime prayers or public worship. (Thanks, Freud. You were spot on about super-ego, ego and id.)
  • I precede my randomized prayers with the same formal prayer every night: an abbreviated Psalm 51. Yes, every single night I pray for God's patience with me. Find the prayer here: "Daily Devotions,"
  • I end my prayer session with the Lord's Prayer, emphasizing this particular phrase: "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." You'll find this stunning prayer, the favorite of billions, actually, on the same page of the Book of Common Prayer. So I do follow ritual: Psalm 51, free prayer, then the Lord's Prayer.
After ten or twenty minutes I go back to deep sleep. At 5:30 a.m. my alarm clock (my incredible internal time clock, that is) wakes me up and I start the new day.

Years of self-questioning after her public rebuke lead me to this conclusion: I am sure that night prayer works for me.

I just recall that King David, Muhammad and Jesus all prayed at night, whether in bed (David), in a mountain cave (Muhammad), or in the wilderness and in a garden (Jesus). These are pretty powerful precedents, right? And oh yes, and Gautama received enlightenment and became the Buddha under a Bodhi tree!

And finally: what works for you? If nothing at all yet, then I urge you to free yourself to experiment. When you find your pattern you'll know it. And if you have found your own pattern of prayer, I'd be interested to learn what it is. I already know one person who prays best when fully awake. That's her way and it's good. What's your way? Leave a comment. 

Do not just accept convention and struggle with it. That's not the way Christianity, Islam, and African traditional religion are going today. Find what works for you, go with it and share it. Make prayer personal again.

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