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The Inteview
The meaning of prayer: A dialogue with a Baptist pastor

Thinking of God as a person

 Pensare a Dio come una persona  DCM-004
06 April 2024

Lidia Maggi is a theologian and Baptist pastor whose life’s work has been dedicated to illuminating the Scriptures. Born into a challenging family situation, she discovered solace and religious purpose within the nurturing environment of a Baptist orphanage, where she found a sense of belonging and received a profound religious education centered on the Word of God, often expressed through song. In her childhood, Lidia dreamt of becoming a missionary’s wife, but as she matured, she came to realize that she could be a missionary in her own right. This revelation led her on a path of ministry and service, culminating in her marriage to a pastor.

To effectively deliver the Word and nurture a community grounded in Christ, one must cultivate a deep, personal connection with Him through prayer.

For me, praying means talking to God, thinking of him not just as an energy, a force, but as a person, who therefore communicates, and speaks. The foundation of our faith is the word, which became flesh.  Prayer is not only a contemplative, and meditative space, but above all dialogue with an Other. The image of God is of one who communicates.

However, how do we hear this voice of God? Are we not all too often in danger of hearing our own voice?

I immerse myself in the Word, which transcends my self-centered monologues and mundane shopping lists. It serves as a corrective, urging me to transcend my limited perspectives. Primarily, God communicates with me through this Word, which I read and interpret with solemn responsibility. It is not merely an echo in my mind but is firmly rooted in the Bible.

Prayer is recognising that you are not alone. Nevertheless, sometimes it seems like an illusion.

I lean on a trust that there is no absolute certainty in the existence of an interlocutor. Yet prayer serves as the conduit through which I engage with the Other. It is frequently an act of intercession, where the beloved faces I hold dear, those for whom I deeply care, lift me from the grip of solitude. I am in the world with its labours, which I bring before God. 

No rationalisation can explain this certainty of not being alone.

However, just like love, friendship can seem ambiguous, and not entirely demonstrable. Yet they are real, real for us.

To have a “you” to turn to means not being sufficient for oneself.

It is a revelatory experience for everyone, but we get there through our fragility. In prayer, we understand that not being sufficient to ourselves is our beauty, our strength, which opens us to others and makes us feel in tune with the universe. Prayer is recognising ourselves as precarious.

Prayer is asking, requesting, sometimes demanding. We always forget to give thanks.

The dimension of thanksgiving is an achievement; it is the prayer of “adulthood”. Thankfulness does not arise spontaneously, but from recognising with amazement the beautiful and good things received from life, the privilege of living here, today.

Yet we pray especially when we are most desperate.

Because we want to understand, to communicate our pain. In my experience, I have learnt that we pray in the most desperate situations not so that they are resolved, but so that we are not left alone, and so hope is always there. There is a God who sustains me and there are people around me I can ask for help. Hope always springs from despair. Those who are happy, rarely hope.

It takes time and a method to learn how to pray.

Everyone must find their own rhythm, but this commitment is important. First of all, time to carve out each day to ask ourselves the big questions of life that we neglect; then a quiet space, and rituals that show care, and attention to a welcoming and protected environment. We women know how much small gestures count to make us feel at ease, a comfortable chair, the phone off, a window with a view... We need a pedagogy of prayer, a grammar; the instinct of the moment is not enough. Let us remember, however, that we are not before an overly sophisticated God. I love a phrase by Luther: “The blasphemy of the desperate is dearer to God than the prayer of the pious”. Israel in Egypt, a slave, was in such pain that he cried in a disjointed manner, but God turned this weeping into prayer and out of that experience Israel was born. God is not picky.

There are prayers that we feel are more ours, that help us to meditate, to remember. The Lord’s Prayer unites us, we are Christians.

The Lord’s Prayer and the Psalms. While acknowledging and understanding one's emotions is crucial, finding the right words can often be a challenge. The Psalms, however, provide a rich tapestry of expressions crafted by others, yet resonating deeply as if they were my own. It's profoundly moving to consider that even Jesus, in the midst of his greatest trials, found solace in the timeless verses of the Psalms, such as “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me” (Psalm 22) and “Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit” (Psalm 31). I would then add that we should learn a spiritual gymnastics, incorporating prayer into the mundane tasks and routines of daily living, we cultivate a praying heart that grows stronger through consistent practice, much like the steady rhythm of small daily exercises rather than the exertion of large marathons.

by Monica Mondo