Pumpkin prayers

sweet wonder
A woman grew pumpkins for the local market.  Near the large pumpkin patch there was a pear tree bearing so much fruit that the woman also picked pears to sell. The pumpkins were so heavy they made her back ache. Each had to be cut from the plant and  lifted onto the trailer behind her tractor. On a hot day, the work was doubly hard. As for the pears, picking them was pure pleasure.  The tree sheltered her from the sun, she didn’t have to bend, and the fruit neatly fitted her hand. She decided God could have made a better job of designing creation. “Why don’t pumpkins grow on trees?” she said aloud. “That would certainly be better for my poor back!” One hot day, she’d lifted only half a load of pumpkins when she had to stop work to rest her aching back and arms. She sat under the pear tree and looked up through the leafy shade. “Why don’t you have pumpkins growing on trees?” she said to God. “That would be so much easier.” She leaned against the tree trunk and went to sleep. There was a thump that instantly woke her.  A pear had dropped on her head. She thoughtfully rubbed the top of her skull. God had answered her prayer. That might be a silly story, but it’s a good parable for me. I’ve said many “pumpkin prayers”. My pumpkins are burdens I find heavy to carry, and I want to be rid of them – my way. So I pray for change. Trouble is, the prayer itself is as heavy as a pumpkin. I push it, roll it towards God, knowing that all this hard work isn’t getting anywhere. For some reason there is no response. More often than not, the pumpkin prayer is connected to ambition. There is something I want to do, and I can’t find a way forward. I may increase effort with something like Psalm 14. “How long, O Lord? Will you utterly forget me? How long will you hide your face from me?” No result. Eventually I give up and enter the stillness of rest. That’s when the answer comes. It’s not the answer I wanted but something quite different – and it is absolutely right. The solution was not with my prayers to God, but God’s prayer in me. How often do I go into the silent prayer of the heart? Actually, not often enough.  My mind is nearly always in charge. But the answer usually lies in that listening prayer we call contemplation. Contemplation can be difficult to describe. Some of the best writing on it comes from Thomas Merton. At the beginning of his book ”Seeds of Contemplation,” he tells us, It is a vivid realization of the fact that life and being in us proceed from an invisible, transcendent and infinitely abundant Source. Contemplation is, above all, awareness of the reality of that Source.” When I stop pushing the pumpkins of my own ideas and return to this Source, the weight of prayer is as light as a feather.
  • Joy Cowley is a wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and retreat facilitator.
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