Dave Acree is our Prayer and Spiritual Life Catalyst. He writes this post as a kick-off to the Prayer Calendar for July/August. (More about the Prayer Calendar here.)
I was recently in Italy where two different experiences reminded me of the importance of physical context in praying.
The first was in the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City. The chapel is not as large as pictures lead you to believe and when hundreds of people crowd into it the noise level assaults your senses. You want to talk with whomever is with you about the frescoes and paintings you are seeing.
That doesn’t fit the desired decorum for the chapel, so periodically one of the Vatican guards will take to the microphone and loudly proclaim, “Shhh; Silenzio!” And for a few brief moments the loud din becomes a quiet hum, but then very quickly returns to an even louder roar.
It struck me that that’s the atmosphere of most of my praying. I lead a busy, noisy life and take to heart Paul’s admonition to “pray without ceasing” squeezing prayer into the moment by moment flow of my existence. I’m the main director and periodically allow God some quick moments especially when things are out of my control. I talk to him when I need him.
The second was in the basilica in Assisi where Saint Francis is buried. We entered the church early on a Sunday morning hoping to hear the monks singing and chanting. No monks appeared but I encountered something quite unexpected, silence. Only a handful of people were there praying. The silence was so real you could almost reach out and touch it. Nothing to hurry to and no noise to distract, I talked to God because I wanted to. I realized how much I missed him.
I’m reminded of Elijah on Mount Horeb needing to hear from God. He heard him not in the loud and spectacular but in a quiet whisper. It’s hard to hear a whisper in a “Sistine Chapel-like” atmosphere.
And then there’s Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.” In the Vulgate the Latin word for “be still” is vacate. Simon Tugwell explains. “God invites us to take a holiday (vacation), to stop being God for a while, and let him be God.”
I need more vacations like that!! So where do you find yourself most often, in the Sistine Chapel or the basilica in Assisi when it comes to prayer atmosphere? Allow me to recommend Assisi.