There is something so compelling about a thoughtful ninety-year-old asking you questions about God. I was intrigued.
Her name was Marion, and she had invited me, the new pastor’s wife, over for tea and cookies. As we chatted, she pointed to a tall stack of books under her coffee table, mostly theology books. Previous pastors had recommended them to her and she had read all of them.
I scanned the titles, and felt a mixture of sadness and frustration. As interesting as the books were, I could see that they did not address what Marion was seeking. Though she had an avid mind and was interested in theology, what she wanted was something even more personally profound. She wanted a closer relationship with God.
Marion was a faithful church member and prayed for herself and others regularly. But what she was seeking was a living, breathing connection with our God: something more, something deeper.
I shared with her a true story from author and priest Anthony Bloom. In his book, Beginning to Pray, he tells of an elderly woman who came to speak to him shortly after his ordination, seeking help with her prayer life. She shared that she had been saying her prayers faithfully for years, but had never felt God's presence.
So, he offered that if she was speaking all the time to God, that it would be good to try listening to God. Since she was a knitter, he suggested that, each day, she put her room in order, and then knit for fifteen minutes before God. It did not sound very pious to her.
But she tried it anyway. First, she delighted in fifteen, guilt-free minutes for herself! But then, after a while, she noticed anew how peaceful her room was, and how much she loved it. The clock ticked. Her needles touched the armchair. The silence began to fill her, and in the silence she could sense a presence, the presence of God.
This practice that Anthony Bloom suggested is broadly contemplative. It’s an introduction to inviting God into our lives in new ways, when the traditional ways of praying don’t seem meaningful anymore.
Here is a suggestion. Feel free to tweak, improvise, or imagine it differently for yourself.
Identify an activity you love to do alone, something that doesn’t require too much mental exertion or interruptions (knitting, gardening, working in your woodshop, listening to music, etc.). If you are tight on time, think of spaces you have to yourself that you can use to be with God: walking on your lunchbreak, waiting in the car to pick up a child.
Do that for fifteen minutes a day, say, for the next month, consciously inviting God into this space. This is not a time to worry about accomplishing anything, but to just be before God, to share this time with God. Keep an open heart and mind. And see what happens.
The great comfort is that God is ever seeking us out. Marion’s relationship with God began to take on new life. I shared a little book on prayer, God and You by William Barry, which meant a lot to her. And she discovered a natural, closer relationship with God.
I think of Marion with great warmth in my heart. Without realizing it, she gave me hope for my own prayer life. Because we all go through seasons—dry periods, lukewarm desires, or maybe have never quite found what we were seeking.
But if Marion could find new life in her relationship with God at ninety-years-old, then, with God’s help, we can too.
The Reverend Dr. Diana Nishita Cheifetz is a spiritual director, serving lay leaders and clergy in the San Francisco Bay area, the U.S.A., and internationally. Her website is www.spiritualdirectionforpastors.com.