Fall is slow in finding its way to the desert. It shows up one morning on a thermometer that reads in the 60’s, leaves by mid-morning when the sun scorches car interiors and skin, then returns with a bedtime breeze. No colors and no leaves, but after surviving months of three-digit temps, I’ll take it.
When I saw autumn on the thermometer a few Saturdays ago, I carried my coffee outside and watched the sky brighten. The open sky has an effect on me. I see stars, or the sun, or the horizon for miles, and prayer is my Pavlovian response. I have a theory about this response, that it’s biologically wired through the vagus nerve, a long and complex nerve that connects the brain to the body. The vagus nerve begins in the roof of the mouth, flows down the length of the torso, stretches little fingers along the vital organs, and ends in the gut. Relax the tongue from the roof of the mouth and you’ve relaxed the sensory nerve associated with performance jitters and common anxiety. My mouth naturally opens when I look up, relaxing the vagus nerve, and the signal between brain and heart – my gut instinct – is prayer. God’s creative design is the coolest.
I talk to God all day long, but truth be told, I don’t always listen for what He has to say. I typically go from activity to activity with my prayers, drifting into different lanes of thought or remembering something I’m supposed to do, abandoning prayer altogether. Sometimes I pray a list of things while I’m driving, ending when I arrive, never once getting quiet with the Lord. The vagus nerve was named for the Latin word ‘wandering’. Appropriate description of my prayer life.
While watching the sun rise that Saturday morning, I jumped into praying a few days’ worth of stuff. God said, ‘Whoa, Michelle. One at a time.’ I knew it was His idea because one at a time is a God practice. My ideas run fast and tangled, and seventeen at a time is my ineffective approach. I liked His idea better.
I prayed one request, pausing to ask God what He thought of the matter, allowing Him to cool my confusion, hurt, or need. I’d forgotten how reflective prayer feels like rest and I shifted easily into the slower pace. It was so peaceful, I committed the next two weeks to morning prayer, first thing – no phone, no Bible, no exercise, just me and Jesus. And coffee. Sorry, I’m basic.
Two weeks under the stars of early morning required some adjustments, but not many. I hadn’t laid under the stars as if there was nothing else to do for years and I awoke ready for prayer and the quiet rustle of palm trees. The moon filled and then emptied, carrying me a week past my two week challenge. My challenge has become a practice. It’s too good to quit.
I’d prayed for one thing at the beginning of the prayer challenge – to see a shooting star. I’ve seen at least six so far. It wasn’t a prayer with utility or importance, just a prayer to witness the wonder and smile. I can’t explain why God would grant my request with such extravagance, other than to reflect His generous nature. He’s reminding me that as much as I need prayer time with Him, He delights in time with me. He wants my prayers, and I’m glad, because I have a lot of them.
The first recorded miracle of Jesus happened at a wedding celebration. The wine ran out – an embarrassment, yes, but certainly not the end of the world – and Mary told her son about it in such a way, He understood she was asking for a miracle. Mary had never seen Jesus perform a miracle, but she’d experienced the miracle of having Him drop into her womb in the most perplexing fashion. She’d witnessed the miracle of watching her son grow in distinction, beyond human limits, yet fully attune to the cry of humanity. She believed the God who had sent her a son had indeed sent His own Son, and as He grew, her faith grew with Him, moving from head to heart to lifestyle.
Jesus answered his mother’s request with, ‘It’s not my time.’ He could have left it at that. But Mary’s response to the wedding workers, ‘Do whatever He tells you,’ communicates wild faith. She believed Jesus was capable of every impossibility and she boldly and humbly trusted He would act – not because He had to, but because He loved her, because He cared, because He’s the giver of all good things. Just because.
Jesus looked at his mom, felt her faith, and knew – His time had come early. He turns water into wine that night. I like to imagine Jesus smiling to Himself, thinking, ‘She’s going to be so tickled about this.’ I don’t doubt He delighted in watching Mary taste the goodness and look His way, completely overwhelmed by the miracle, completely thankful she’d been there to ask, and by doing so, experience the wonder.
Stars streak the sky all the time; I only notice them when I’m watching. So I’m making space in my life to sit under the sky and look up. Prayers are answered all the time, but how often do I notice? I’m making space in my heart for bigger faith, the kind that asks for simple joy as well as the kind that releases those deep-down gut prayers. And when I’m too tired to talk or make sense of my own thoughts, I don’t say anything. I just watch for His wonder.
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