Vespers reflection – Responding to God’s prayer

When I’m hungry, and even when I’m not, there’s nothing like the aroma – the scent – of food cooking to catch my attention. Think of some of your favourite foods; and imagine being able to catch the smell of that food. It would take great will-power not to be distracted from that pleasing sense. In fact, it is impossible.

Christians pray in order to be connected with God. And, in history and tradition of our faith, Christians have prayed at different times of the day. In the evening, especially at the end of the day to give God thanks for all that has happened in the day, and to place ourselves in God’s care during the night to come.

In some churches today, Christians practice the ancient ritual of burning incense during worship called ‘vespers’ – evening prayer. The priest or pastor would burn a strong scent of something in a crucible and the smoke would rise upward for all to see and smell. The priest would walk throughout the congregation wafting the incense for all to catch the scent.

In the prayer-book of the ancient Israelites, the Psalmist says: “Let my prayer rise to you as incense, like the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice” (Psalm 141:2).

But the lifting of our hands in worship of God, the raising of our hearts as prayer to God, is more a response to God rather than ‘my’ prayer or ‘our’ prayer. Prayer is not about what we start, what we initiate, what we create. When our hands and arms are open to God, this is a gesture of acceptance or openness to God and God’s coming to us. Prayer, if anything, is God’s prayer.

The Psalmist, elsewhere, writes: “By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night HIS song is with me, which is a prayer to the God of my life” (Psalm 42:8). Our prayer, if anything, is God’s song that resonates, that hums, and that wafts in our hearts and around us.

And we are the recipient of God’s word; we listen to God; we catch it; we receive the love, mercy, forgiveness and grace of God. Just like the scent of cooking food on the stove catches our attention: It’s hard to ignore it.

May our lives become a light that reflects the light of God, shining in the darkness of this night.

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