The Discipline of Prayer

My Focal Point in Prayer

I recently finished Henri Nouwen’s book, “Wisdom for the Long Walk of Faith.” He said that the discipline of prayer requires a specific time, a specific place, and a specific focal point. My time is 6:00 AM. My preferred place is outdoors whenever possible, for good reason. I am surrounded by four wooded acres on Lake Norman. I realized, however, that I don’t exactly have a focal point. My gaze wanders around the lake, the wildlife, and the surrounding woods. I also realized that as my gaze wanders so does my mind. Nothing quite holds my attention.

After hearing Henri Nouwen’s advice, I looked around for that specific ‘focal point’. My eyes finally drifted toward the heavens. Much to my delight and surprise, the branches in the tree in front of me formed a hole, like a bulls-eye. As is often the case, God provided just what I needed in response to my search.

At least for the early part of the summer, I have the perfect focal point. The leaves in the foreground could represent the parts of my life. With a gentle breeze, they’re dynamic. Always shifting, growing, changing… reflecting different colors, lights, and shadows. While holding the myriad movements of my life in the foreground, my true focus is on what lies beyond. The little portal invites me onward in faith, hope, and love.

Many Catholics follow Nouwen’s discipline in Adoration: they sign up for a specific time. The place is a chapel or church. The focal point is the Lord. You can also make this a daily practice. The focal point could be a cross, a candle, or a statue. Or like me, you can simply ask God to provide just what you need for your ‘long walk of faith.’