Essay # 2
Adoration – The Wow Prayer
In my last essay (cf. “Contemplative Prayer – Why So Many Words?” above) I wrote about four kinds of prayer, and how in contemplative prayer we can pray these in silence without words. Let’s look at the first: adoration.
Want to know how to pray? On a calm day look up at any tree towering over you. There it stands in silence adoring God. On other days, windy days, it has much to say. Each species of tree has its own language. But on calm days there it stands with deep hushed respect before its creator. It never says a word because it knows better. Find a large rock. There it sits in silence adoring God. There it sits with deep quiet respect before its creator. It never says a word because it knows better. The tree and the rock know how to return the favor of God’s presence.
Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary says that adoration means to worship with profound reverence, to pay divine honors, to regard with reverent admiration and devotion prompted by veneration, esteem or love, to become filled with a spirit of profound reverence. So does adoration involve worship, reverence, honor, regard, admiration, devotion, veneration, esteem, and love? Well, yes. However, on the other hand, these are a bunch of words; and we don’t want to quibble with semantics. And any of these attitudes can be expressed in even more words. Contemplative prayer would participate in any of the above attitudes wordlessly.
We read in the bible that God gives us grace, graces us. The word “grace” comes from a Greek word meaning “gift.” So what is this gift that God gives us? It can take many forms but it’s most basic is the gift of God’s self. God graces us with divine presence. God’s most powerful expression of this self-gift is not some message, but just being there. This indwelling of God’s very spirit is what enlivens us, and makes us who we are. Our healthy response to this should be to return the favor. We can give grace to God by in turn gracing God with our presence, by being there with God. Try this out as an exercise of contemplative prayer: Sit in a quiet place. Try not to think. Pay attention to your breathing, slowly in and out. Now just be with God. Don’t talk to God. Just be.
There are times when contemplative adoration just flutters into our lives unexpectedly. We may be awed by a sunset or a snowfall. We may be amazed by a relationship that has taken a turn that brings joy to our lives. We may witness a birth, or a death. The examples are endless. Sometimes these events don’t affect us much; they don’t impinge on our consciousness. But other times something different happens. There is some breakthrough of spirit that we did not expect. Then we are left speechless. Our only response is “wow.” I don’t mean we say the word “wow.” I mean we are profoundly wowed. This is a moment of contemplative prayer. This is the deepest adoration we are capable of. We may have never before heard the term “contemplative prayer.” But we have all had these moments, whatever we may call them. It is an adoration moment whether we believe in God or not. God graces us with divine presence whether we believe or not. And whatever our faith or lack of faith may be, we have all returned the divine favor with our speechless presence – WOW. The last time Jesus was with the apostles in the flesh, this was after the resurrection, they worshiped him. Matthew reports (Matthew 28:27) that they doubted. The apostles were combining adoration and doubt. Sometimes our beliefs or doubts get in the way. In contemplative adoration we set all thoughts and agendas aside. We just WOW.
Elijah was hiding out in a mountain top cave, afraid for his life. He was waiting for God. Then all the noisy things came. First there came a great wind that was splitting rocks. But God was not in the wind. Then there was an earthquake. But God was not in the earthquake. Then there was a swirling fire. But God was not in the fire. Hear the words from 1 Kings 12-13: “And after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.” WOW! Silence facing the eternal silence. Now try this as an exercise of contemplative adoration. Hear the sound of sheer silence. Stand up and walk to the entrance of our caves.