It was our first class in Romantic Poetry after the Christmas break. The only thing on my mind was how good the food had been at home, compared to the university cafeteria. So great was the memory of my mother’s gastronomic delights that I hardly noticed the anxious looks on the faces of my fellow students. The professor arrived with his usual flourish, but just as quickly, questions and answer papers circulated around the class room. Surprise to me, we were about to have an exam! Results would make up 40 percent of the year’s final mark!
Perhaps I shouldn’t have skipped the last few days of classes before the break? Perhaps I should have asked a fellow student if the professor had given any assignments? With no exam mentioned on the formal “pre-Christmas” exam schedule, I had simply discounted the course and escaped to the comforts of home. Everyone else had spent their spare Christmas moments studying Wordsworth’s Preface to Lyrical Ballads and Thackeray’s Vanity Fair. Not me… Who was Thackeray anyway? As for the exam… it looked like I didn’t have a hope.
Here is where prayer comes to a person’s life: when it seems as though all future life, perhaps even your continued existence, is dependent on what is about to, or not about to happen. Life can be that way, through your own fault or through no fault of your own. It may be when you are hanging over a cliff for the first time on rappel, when you are suddenly alone in deep water and you can’t swim, or when you are sitting alone in a public place with people passing by, and nobody cares. All good times for prayer.
But what is prayer? To many prayer is a direct appeal to a higher authority, like “God.” But, I didn’t know if God had read Vanity Fair or not. In any case, I didn’t think God was going to share his crib notes with me. After all, I had missed the mark and brought the problem on myself. Plus, God hadn’t really been hanging out with me or chatting.
There is nothing like that empty feeling in the pit of your stomach and a shot of adrenalin in the brain to get the mind working. I pulled myself together, blocked out all distractions, and opened myself to anything and everything that I had ever known, seen or heard about Wordsworth. (That wasn’t too hard because the only thing I had read, and memorized, was Wordsworth’s famous poem: Daffodils.) From there, I too wandered like a cloud or vales and hills, my pen danced like the daffodils beside the lake. I’ll swear my words were as continuous as the stars that shine and twinkled like the milky way! I opened my soul to the poetic force of Wordsworth… and two full exam books later, I said: “It is finished.” Here is one for Ripley’s: I passed that exam! In fact, to my own utter astonishment and to the chagrin of some of my classmates, I ended up with the highest mark in the class!
That’s what happens when you open yourself in prayer.
To pray is to get rid of the distractions and to open up, as fully as you dare, to the very force that is the ground of our being, that is the basis and driving force of evolution and all of creation. That is to open one’s heart to the power of love.
Life doesn’t always turn out the way you want it to turn out. You don’t always pass the test, heal the wound, save the day or win the lottery. Maybe that wasn’t yours to do? But, through prayer, every aspect of who you are, does come into a closer relationship with that which powers all things.