Prayer, at its most basic, is about paying attention to the presence of God. God is always present, but we struggle to pay attention. There are so many distractions! We can learn something about paying attention to the presence of God in prayer from Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann. Miriam-Rose is an Aboriginal elder, artist and Catholic educator of the Ngan’gityemerri language group from Nauiyu (Daly River) in the Northern Territory. Miriam-Rose teaches about Dadirri. Dadirri is an inner, deep listening and quiet. It is a still awareness of the presence of God within and all around. Miriam-Rose says:
Dadirri recognises the deep spring that is inside us. We call on it and it calls to us…There is no need of words. A big part of dadirri is listening…My people today, recognise and experience in this quietness, the great Life-Giving Spirit, the Father of us all. It is easy for me to experience God’s presence. When I am out hunting, when I am in the bush, among the trees, on a hill or by a billabong; these are the times when I can simply be in God’s presence.
The ancient wisdom that Miriam-Rose teaches points us to the mystery of God present in all things. The discipline is simple but not necessarily easy in our busy lives: for a few minutes each day, find a quiet place, pay attention, listen and be still. God will be there and there we are blessed.
Prayer, paying attention to the presence of God, is not only personal it is also communal. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus assures us: “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (18:20). All we have to do is be present to each other and remind ourselves that we gather in Jesus’ name. Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t stipulate where or how we gather: it could be on our mobile phones or over a video meeting or viewing a live streamed Mass. Jesus simply assures us that he will show up. So, in this time where we are not gathering in the usual way to worship and pray the great prayer of the Mass, let’s take Jesus’ assurance into our hearts: he is an abiding presence with us in our community. Let’s pay attention and bless when we understand.
Dr Chris Cotter
Director of Religious Education
Catholic Education Western Australia