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July 3, 2004
You know what I'd like not to do?>/i> I ask Q, who gives no visible sign of being awake.

Mmmn-mmn? he encourages.

I'd like never to run a bed-and-breakfast.

Okay, he murmurs. But I have already broken into his dreams. But your eMos are like that, though, you know. You have to be ready with a new one every day.

Well yes, but they make me a stronger writer. The discipline of a daily column makes an essayist a better essayist. Running a bed-and-breakfast would make me a better maker of toast.

Mmmn. Q is noncommittal.

There is no real danger of our opening a bed-and-breakfast on The Geranium Farm. Too many teenagers -- a pair of enormous feet hangs over the end of one of the living room couches as I write this -- and too many cats. The lady of the house travels too much, and the gentleman believes that his wife's focus on people is best addressed from the writer's distance, serving them soul instead of bacon, and that even he would get tired of making waffles every blessed morning.

It is true, though, that we become more adept at the things we do every day. Even prayer -- you just get more efficient at it if you do it every day. It is an activity, and habit helps it along. Strengthens it and smoothes its way. Shaves off extraneous unhelpfuls and leaves what works in place.

And yet, it is not an activity like making toast. Prayer is not, for instance, our activity alone -- it is always a conversation. God is at prayer with us. This is so whether we feel the presence of God or not -- but then, praying every day makes us more perceptive of God's presence. And sometimes the activity of prayer is no activity, a resting, a gradual opening, a quiet listening and looking for the hint of God's presence, which gently grows larger, large enough for us to sit in a while.

One doesn't jump into this kind of the prayer on one's first attempt. One doesn't become prima ballerina on the first day with the company. Your first loaf of bread may not rise very well. Skill develops over time, and prayer has certain skills of its own -- they develop over time, too. But they have a beginning.

And, while not everyone has the equipment to be prima ballerina and some will never make a loaf of bread rise, everyone has what he or she needs to become a person of prayer. We're wired for it, all of us.

All you need to do to open a bed-and-breakfast is to hang out a shingle saying you are one, a sign that, says "Cat Haunt" or "Rhubarb Glen" or whatever you're going to call it. But prospective guests will do well to wait a bit before dropping in on you, until you've gotten the knack and ironed out a few wrinkles. And all you need to do to learn to pray is ask God to give you the gift of prayer God intends you to have, and then begin.
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