Friday, May 17, 2013 | By: Jake

Seeking that Personal Prayer

We arrived in Tel Aviv, Israel in the middle of the night and took a long bus ride to Tantur Institute. I was pleasantly surprised by how much different Israel was than how I had originally thought that it would be. It seemed so much more modern than I thought it would be, yet still much more ancient than I thought it would be, which doesn't really make sense....but that's what I felt.

Tantur is right outside of Bethlehem, up on a hill. Expecting some small building, I was amazed to find a fairly large campus. However, with only having about three hours before we had to wake up for Mass the following morning, I didn't really have the time to explore yet.

I awoke to my early morning alarm, thankfully free of jet lag, most likely due to the excitement of the day. I was given a single to stay at while rooming at Tantur, and the bright sun shone through the curtains.

I opened up the back porch window, stepping out into the 80°F weather...coming from South Bend's 30°F weather, this was absolutely wonderful. After a quick shower and a delightful breakfast, we stepped into the front courtyard at Tantur for morning prayer. We only had a short time before we had to walk over to Bethlehem for mass, but praying with Bethlehem in the background was quite an experience.

Morning prayer was not something that I was used to...even attending a Catholic grade school, morning prayer was never something that I have experienced. Coming from a faith community on campus that usually doesn't practice pre-written prayer, I had to make quite an adjustment. I found myself desperately seeking the time to pray what I was feeling at the moment.

As we took turns reciting different parts out of our prayer books, I looked out on the giant wall separating Israel and Palestine beyond the wall of Tantur. In the same light, I felt this wall between God and I when praying morning prayer.

Even surrounded by devoted Christians who I looked up to, I struggled to make that connection. Even with this spiritual community, even with this pilgrimage group, my heart desired personal prayer.

Last night, I went out to Steak N Shake with a few friends from ISI, and before our meal, we joined our hands in prayer, thanking God for the wonderful time together this past year and our many blessings...but I still found myself seeking that personal prayer. I didn't want to stop praying, didn't want to stop communicating with God...I wanted to talk about everything else that was going on.

Instead of thinking that the prayer was too short, that the prayer is pre-written and not personal, that only one person in the group is praying...I think I need to look more inwardly and realize that prayer in these settings is meant to be communal. Our faith lives, although personal, are also meant to be experienced in community, in relationship with one another...even God is in constant relationship with Himself.

I should be seeing this as a conviction of a need for more personal prayer, of more personal time with Christ.  In communal prayer, we're uniting together under one prayer, whether pre-written or spoken with one person, and regardless of how long the prayer is, we are communicating with Christ.

Both personal and communal prayer are necessary for a vibrant faith life, and for me, the prior is definitely lacking. I'm currently going through Bill Hybels's Too Busy Not to Pray, and so far, it's bearing some great fruit in my life. Sometimes I so easily forget that we can approach God alone, but we can. And awesome.


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