I heard about a bishop who was on a ship that ran aground on a remote island off the coast of South America.
While the ship was being repaired, he went ashore to explore. Discovering the island inhabited, and hoping to do some good while he was there, he asked the villagers, “Do you know the Lord’s Prayer?”
“No,” they answered. “We’ve never heard of it. In fact, we don’t know any prayers. But because we believe God knows our hearts and knows what we need, we just sit in His presence and recite the alphabet and figure God will know what to do.”
“You recite the alphabet? This is your prayer?”
“Yes. We place ourselves in God’s presence and recite the alphabet a number of times each day and that’s about it.”
Thrilled to see that he could be of real spiritual assistance to these people, he offered to teach them the Lord’s Prayer. They happily accepted and he the spent the day helping them memorize the words. “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done…” and so forth.
In time the boat was repaired, the bishop said his goodbyes and departed.
Suddenly, he saw a couple of the islanders running toward the ship on the surface of the water. They ran across the waves and walked up to the ship and said, “Father, we’ve forgotten the Lord’s Prayer. Can you come back and teach it to us again?”
After a moment, the bishop responded, “Listen, you just go back and do what you were doing before.”
Now, when I heard this story (and yeah, hate to tell you but I think it’s just a story) I immediately thought of something St Josemaria Escriva once said about the essence of true prayer:
“You say that you don’t know how to pray? Put yourself in the presence of God, and once you have said, ‘Lord, I don’t know how to pray!’ rest assured that you have begun to do so.”
Every saint who has ever existed has insisted that the key to growth in the interior life is prayer.
And looking back on the nearly 40 years I’ve known the Lord, I would say the thing I wish more than anything is that I had learned earlier to devote more time to sitting before Him, even if only to say, “Lord, I don’t know how to pray.”
Hey, even if it was only to lie at the feet of Jesus like a dog at its master’s feet, and say nothing at all!
It’s still what I want — and need — more than anything else. More time in God’s presence. More time in the present. More time praying for and serving the one’s God has given me. More time involved in real life. Less time listening to talking heads. Less time with the TV. Less time with the iPhone and the Internet. Less time searching for connection in things that isolate.
All perfectly obvious stuff, unless you’re a natural born idiot. Like me.
God bless you as you make your own way. Oh, here’s another one I read this morning from St Josemaria. I read it and laughed out loud at the sheer volume of truth contained in so few words. Maybe it will resonate with you as well.
“He spent the whole night in prayer to God.” So Saint Luke tells of our Lord. And you? How often have you persevered like that? Well, then…