|I Don't Pray
by Paul Walker
I found Jesus compelling. I thought Christianity was
radical, just what I was looking for. I bought in. I joined. I "became a
Christian". This was to be a total change of lifestyle - although in
reality it amounted to little more than no swearing. I would stop swearing
and begin to pray.
Prayer, I was told, was the oxygen of the faith. Without prayer I would
never "grow". How could I speak about the divine if I never talked to God?
How could I do God�s will if I never listened?
This was prayer - a two way conversation with the Almighty, a massive
privilege to be in contact with the maker of the universe. Prayer was
beyond talking to the President of the United States or even one of the
Beatles. This was contact with the big one.
And so I moved on. I was accepted for ordination, and went on to be a
curate, a church planter, a national preacher of the year, vicar of a big
suburban parish. I have preached many sermons on the necessity of prayer.
Only - I could never really manage it myself.
God knows I tried. Spiritual directors gave me ideas. I tried
Augustinian, Thomist, Franciscan, and Ignatian methods. I even tried a
Swedish method which was not as much fun as it sounds. I sat in silence; I
gabbled in tongues; I attended reflective masses and a Bible week in the
And through it all there was an unspoken fear, a possibility that few
Christians like to admit - that I was talking to myself when I prayed. Was
I clapping with one hand?
I well remember once waking up in the middle of the night in a cold
sweat because I was not praying. How could my ministry progress without
this essential element? And of course the reason for my disquiet, I
convinced myself, was that I wasn�t praying hard enough. Occasionally, I
would manage what seemed like a decent bit of concentration for over ten
minutes. But it never worked the next day.
For some years I found consolation in the alternative to prayer which
the Church has invented for its clergy, the Daily Office (Morning and
Evening Prayer). But I was a failure at this, despite the fact that I
proclaimed almost weekly how crucial prayer was.
My lack of prayer became a constant worry. Was my failure harming me?
When I was child I feared that a bear would get me if I stood on a crack
in the pavement. Maybe God would do the same if I didn�t talk to him as I
That is, until about two years ago when I made a life-changing decision
about prayer. I gave it up. It was a hell of a lot easier than stopping
smoking. I decided that since God was so rude as to never answer my
questions, never to tell me what was on his mind, never to suggest how I
could do his will, I wouldn�t bother. If prayer is a two-way conversation
why did I do all the talking? And when I listened God was silent.
At the same time in my reading I was beginning to wonder whether there
was a God "out there" at all. Whatever God was, there was only one place
we were ever going to meet and that was somewhere deep inside - deep
inside me and deep inside other people.
If God was in other people then conversation with God did in fact work
because God could answer in and through others. If God was in me then
surely trying to be in touch with another being "out there" was missing
I became aware that there are many times when I�m alone. I run for
about three hours a week. I often find that before the day begins I lie in
silence for over half an hour thinking. When I first step into my study I
simply stop and contemplate the day ahead. When the day draws to a close I
think back over it.
I have always done these things, before and after I "became a
Christian". They are not prayer as it is usually described. They are
moments of self awareness; they are a breathing space. I realise that
these are the times when I have always been in touch with God within
I don�t pray.
That I don't pray has not made me a better person. But then neither did
prayer. In contrast, I feel close to God when I recognise the divine in
others and in myself.
But I don�t pray. What a relief it is! I realise now that to be me, I
don�t have to pray. At last I have unburdened myself of one of the many
things that my personal Christian heritage caused me to feel guilty about.
Many years ago I realised that I didn�t need to be in church to find
God. And, as I now discover, I don't need the tool that the Church insists
I use to sense God's presence.