The night before, according, “The whole town [had] gathered at the door” (Mark 1:32) for Jesus to heal their sick ones and rebuke their demons. Surely he was all prayed out by the next morning. I know I would have been. That he snuck out before dawn and chose a solitary place indicates to me, though, a different kind of prayer that what I usually think of when I use the word prayer. Not praying for something to happen or not happen. Not praying words that others will hear and possibly judge. Not praying words at all, but just being alone with God.
It’s an odd expression, an oxymoron: to be alone with someone. If you’re alone, that means no one else is there. But we use this expression often to mean sharing pleasurable time with someone.
“I just want to be alone with you,” I might tell my husband or a close friend. Occasionally, I enjoy being alone with one of my daughters—not just away from others (especially the other daughter) but having fun with just her. We are like different people when we're alone together. And, unless something goes awry on one of these dates (as, sadly, often happens), being alone together is magnificently therapeutic. All the ills of those other times we spend together, or apart, seem to get washed away by our being present to each other.
When I just want to be alone with someone, I have no other motivation than to be in that person’s presence. No motive or goal. No memory of some planned thing I want to say. No memory at all. No plan. No duty.
Being alone with God in this way, I must confess, is a new kind of praying for me. The “I just want to be alone with God” prayer. Not wanting anything from him. Not searching my mind for things I should be praying about. Not remembering any particular prayer-need of anyone else or even myself, perhaps. Just being with God, by myself.
That’s, I learned the other day, what meditation is. Or can be. Not emptying my mind of every thought—an impossibility, as it has always seemed to me—but just being present, by myself, with God. Available to him. Having no more holy purpose than to say, “I’m here.”
I’ve been doing this twice a day for coming up on a week, now, as part of a 40-day “defunking” project of my yoga class. We're supposed to meditate for five minutes every morning and every evening.
I was against it, at first. Strangely put off by—afraid of, even—the idea of not thinking, not doing something. Afraid of just being alone.
When I admitted this fear to my yoga class, my teacher said, “It’s not any different than praying. It’s just committing five minutes to being present to God. Available.” She gave me that language and, with it, not only a way to meditate, to get the job done, but a whole new approach to prayer, one of the great conundrums of my spiritual life.
And, while I can’t say anything has happened worth reporting on, this new way of praying has been curiously satisfying.
I make sure that Kris is occupied with some task or taking one of his 20-minute showers. Then I set the oven timer for 5 minutes, plus 10 seconds to get myself settled. (I’m rather pharisaical, as you can see, when it comes to following instructions.) I sit myself cross-legged on the livingroom floor and consciously breathe, the way I’ve been taught, tightly and loudly in through my nose and then shoot it back out, watching the tubular breaths in my mind as they move from outside of me to inside of me and back out.
“I’m here,” I breathe. In. Out.
Soon, I’m no longer seeing breaths or saying mind-words but just being.
And then the timer shrills, almost immediately, it seems to me.
“The timer went off!” Kris calls from wherever he is, then rushes into the kitchen to turn it off.
And just like that it’s over and I’m alone again with just me.