The Simplest Prayer: Thank You

One of my favorite lines about prayer comes from Meister Eckhart, and it says, “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” The profound truth within that line is that gratitude is at the center of our life of prayer, one of the foundational ways that we relate to God.
Gratitude in the Christian tradition points us toward God’s identity as “the giver of all good things,” a phrase that distills a verse from the book of James, “Every good gift, every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of Lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
But also, embedded in the prayer of gratitude is recognition of our own identities as receivers. Although surrounded by brokenness and suffering—which we sometimes taste ourselves—there is much that is good, and it begins with the gift of life itself. We are receivers of the gift of life…this is fundamentally who we are.
And this brings us to this most essential prayer, which is simply, “Thank you.”
It is a great place to begin in prayer. In fact, it’s the prayer that I’m teaching my two-year old son…we simply say, in a little repeat after me game, “Dear God…Thank You…Amen”. I hope that this simple prayer will become the foundation for how he relates to God as he discovers the profound gift of life. I hope that as he learns to make this prayer his own, it will form within him a depth of gratitude.
The prayer is also a simple place to return to if you are in a moment when your prayer life as become clouded, either by complexity or confusion. So, today, whether you are a beginner in prayer or someone who has sought the way of prayer for many years, I want to encourage you to take a moment and allow the practice of this simplest prayer to be a step forward in your spiritual journey.
In concrete terms, when I want to have a very simple moment of prayer, here’s what I do:
Find somewhere where you sit comfortably, and take a couple of moments to just be, and breathe.  Nothing fancy here, but you want to become fully present to yourself, which is not our default mode of being. So be still, and for a moment, just breathe.
Dwell for a moment on the gift of life. Breathe it in.
And then, simply say to God, “Thank You.”
It is a simple prayer, but you may trust that the Lord hears it.
This moment of gratitude is a small step, but one that you can often return to as you seek a fuller connection to the Spirit of God. The path of the Spirit is made up of such steps, small moments which, over time, form us in the image of Jesus.

The Seven Deadly Sins and Prayer

Was there a Spanish friar in this movie? I don't remember.

It is easy to imagine that when we pray, we turn away from those dark parts of our self that are sinful and marked by evil. John of the Cross’s masterpiece, The Dark Night of the Soulattacks that naiveté, and begins by working through each of the seven deadly sins in turn, describing how each of them enters with us into our devotional lives. Pride, Greed and their ilk actively keep us from prayer, but they also deeply affect the ways that we enter into and experience prayer.

For instance, spiritual gluttony affects our prayers by encouraging within us the desire to greedily costume the joys of prayers for our own sake, to enter into the spiritual disciplines without moderation. We consume the “sweet” experience of God’s presence, and can so crave that experience that we lose the importance of prayer that exists even when that experience eludes us. John writes,

“So much are they given to this that they think when they derive no spiritual sweetness, they have done nothing, so meanly do they think of God…But these persons will feel and taste God, as if he were palpable and accessible to them, not only in communion but in all other acts of devotion…This effort after sweetness destroys true devotion and spirituality, which consists in perseverance in prayer with patience and humility, mistrusting self, solely to please God.”

And so the early chapters of the book go, working through each of the capitol sins in turn, showing how they become barriers to the practice of prayer, in turn working against our faith in its value and distorting our experience of prayer.

Through this, John drives towards a very theocentric idea of prayer—prayer is a place of God’s action, not something that we can simply manipulate and force into giving us the experience we desire. He calls us to be humble and perseverant in prayer, in faith that because of God’s grace, prayer is valuable even when it feels empty and useless.

This is helpful to me.