Imagine being a young black pastor in the segregated south and you have been called upon to lead a movement against injustice. The demonstration is having some success and the supporters of the evil structure have constantly threatened and denounced what you are doing. One night, a particular threatening phone call shakes you. Fear quickly invades your heart and mind as you consider the real possibility of death and the death of your young family. It is at that point where your fine seminary education cannot help you. Your saintly parents are too far away to come to your aid and comfort. At that point, you come to a place where you must know God for yourself not through scholarship nor friends. The only way to know Him at this point is by a deep, honest, and sincere outpouring of one’s self through prayer. Then, and only by this knowledge of God, are you able to carry on with your life’s mission. In a speech given in Chicago about a decade after the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made this confession to his audience.
In the current political and social climate, it is not unusual for us to speak, write, and demonstrate against the injustices we see around us. This is a good thing. But, imitating Dr. King in seeking justice for the oppressed and mercy for the poor does come with a price that is often overlooked by an American mind frame that wants to forget that he was a Christian minister. Indeed, this is a price we all must pay if we pursue the will of God from any religious viewpoint. In particular for we who claim to believe Him who taught us that self-denial and taking up the cross are the prerequisites to follow Him, we especially must make the effort to tear our homes apart looking for the lost coin that will cover the cost. We must come to deeply, honestly, and sincerely know God through prayer.
Too often we don’t try to make such an effort. Sure we may go to church practicing some pious ancient ritual, getting caught up in a spontaneous praises, or some variation of these extremes. We read the Bible and other religious books and magazines to help us on our Christian journey. On the surface, we know how to show people what religion we practice and how to apply our faith to just about every social concern. My concern is that too many of us never try to go deeper than the surface show before men and confront the depths of how much we need God until, like Dr. King, circumstances drive us to a place where we can no longer run and hide. More troubling is that we don’t even try to reach that point because we fail to recognize our real enemy, Satan and his legions, and how he makes war inside of us. With our unwillingness to grow closer to God in this critical way, the devil is comfortable with us going through our motions.
This Great Lenten Fast, I have added King’s Kitchen Table to my rule of prayer. I typically do this right after dinner keeping in mind a sermon from St. John Chrysostom of how donkeys and oxen eat and go to their work while we eat so much we become useless and unable to bend our knees for prayer. After washing the dishes, which is a form of service, I offer the first prayer of the Trisagion, to the Holy Spirit, before sitting down to the table. Afterward, I sit and offer one ode of the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete. I follow this up with a Psalm, the Gospel reading, and a prayer from The Veil from the Agpeya, the Coptic Book of the Hours. The final offering is A Prayer for the Children of Africa in America written by the black abolitionist, Maria W. Stewart. I end my time at the kitchen table by writing in my spiritual journal, examining my thoughts in light of the penitential prayers that I had offered.
Those who wish to pray at the kitchen table need not be as elaborate as this. The following elements are more important. Timing; again, I keep this practice right after dinner. So that during dinner, I am mindful that I have to pray after eating. This mindfulness helps me to reduce my temptation for gluttony, a common sin that I have too regularly overlooked. Thus, I see that if this bad habit can be overcome, by seeking oneness with God my other evils can be overcome as well. Sacrifice; any nightly prayer activity means cutting away time from entertainment and rest. Those who are very attached to watching TV can start by going to the table during commercials while that favorite show is on. In time, intentionally increase the time spent at the table vs. that in front of the screen. Work; dishwashing is not the hardest labor in the world. But, praying while working is common among monastics. If not the dishes, folding clean laundry or some other chore can be done. Uplifting music is a good addition to this routine. Repentance; prayer is not simply offering God list of request. Both John the Baptist and Jesus commanded people to repent for the sake of the kingdom. Adorations, intercessions, praises; these things have their place. But, repentance and self-examination brings us to struggle against the real enemy in ourselves. Unless we struggle internally, anything we attempt, even what we succeed against, externally will be meaningless in our goal of salvation.