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The power of prayer

Wed, May 15, 2013

Twenty Something

A woman’s mind is like a teleprompter of to-dos that never stops turning.

Unanswered email, unwritten thank-yous, unfolded laundry. Tupperware that needs to be washed and returned. Overdue RSVPs and expired milk. Empty gas tank, full memory card. Birthdays and deadlines, the personal and the professional knotted together beyond the point of repair.

Which is why Tammy Block needed a plan for the pool. The 39-year-old from Rosemount, Minn., is raising two children and running her own law firm. When she added a weekly swim to her exercise routine, she found herself drowning in her thoughts. “My mind was all over the place,” she told me. “I was getting more stressed out. It wasn’t doing me any good.”

She knew she needed to find a focus, something that could quiet her head, and one day she came up with a remedy: the rosary.

Now Tammy prays a rosary during her morning swim. It times out just right for a work-out, running 45 minutes to an hour, and it helps regulate her breathing.

“It’s perfect,” she said. “It has this calming effect.”

I’ve been reflecting on the many forms of prayer as we mark the half-way point of the Year of Faith initiated by one pope and advanced by another. “The ‘door of faith’ is always open for us,” Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote in his apostolic letter, “ushering us into the life of communion with God and offering entry into his Church. …To enter through that door is to set out on a journey that lasts a lifetime.”

Jacob Rudd’s journey brought him to the seminary and, this past January, to a lakeside retreat center. On the last night of his silent retreat, after a week of cloudy skies, it finally cleared up. The late hour and freezing temperature didn’t deter him.

“Something drew me to go outside, so I bundled up and went out onto the lake,” the 23-year-old from Oshkosh, Wis., told me.

Gazing up at the stars, he spotted the Orion constellation and turned to his go-to devotion, the 15 prayers of St. Bridget. It was a night of serenity and intimacy with God, a memory he keeps close as he discerns his future and plows through the final weeks of the school year.

Young adulthood is an important time to delve deeper into prayer, which I once approached as a poetry competition. Spiritual life was a classroom where I sat in the front row, raised my hand often and requested extra credit.

Now I just focus on showing up, being present and being myself. We aren’t graded on form. Prayer is an honest measure of what’s on our hearts at any given moment, however ugly or ill formed. It’s handing those emotions over to the Carpenter who can sand our raw timber into character.

I’ve learned there is something profound in the elementary, that the simplest prayers often come from the deepest places.

Cardinal Tim Dolan of New York expressed a similar view last year on Twitter, writing: “A big chunk of my morning prayers are the words of St. Peter. Prayers like, ‘Lord, it’s good to be here’ and ‘Save me, Lord, I’m drowning!’”

Thanks! Help!

Every prayer we utter ultimately boils down to one of these two words. They are a lifeline to God. Offer them up freely, wherever you are, however you feel – in the pool or in the chapel, behind the wheel, before the meeting, after the sunset. Then prepare for a shift: a lighter struggle and a brighter view.

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