by Clark Wilson
"When you pray the prayer rope, how many knots do your fingertips
grasp at one time?" St. Nepsis
You folks who know about horses in real life, forgive me. What I
know about horses only comes from the Western novels of Louis L'Amour, but I'm going
to talk about them anyhow.
In cowboys movies the horses are usually treated like a required kind of mobile furniture
or scenery. People leap onto them or off of them and ride them for impossible distances
at breakneck speed firing revolvers with amazing accuracy(if they're the good guys), but
the horses are part of the background. In Louis L'Amour novles, however, the horses have
individual characters and quite often play active roles in the story. They are never just
horses, but rather roans of grullas. It's a regulas practice for a hunted cowhand to sleep
confidently on the range because his born-wild mustang keeps better watch for pursuers than
he himself could. And I remember another story that took place in the mountians during a
bad snowstorm--the cowboy slips into unconsciousness but the horse plods onward to shelter
in a cave, saving them both from the killing cold. What does any of this have to do with
prayer? Well, I remember walking along one time, my mind focusd on worries and tasks, when
my fingers absent-mindedly closed around the prayer rope in my pocket. My fingers started
along the prayer rope and drew my mind along them, and I started to pray. Another time I
was walking along, I started to recite a prayer but my mind wandered off into non-prayer
things. When I came to myself a little bit later, I found that my mouth and voice were
reciting the prayer, and my mind joined them. At home during my day-start devotions, I
ofter find myself drawn back into prayer when I get to the part where I cross myself, bow
down, and touch the floor with my fingertips.
My point is that we often reguard our bodies as furniture or scenery
or even obstacles in our prayer and worship, when we ought rather to deem them active
partners and sometimes even our guides. We may see a prayer rope and rote vocal prayer as
distractions from "real" prayer when instead they can lead us from distractions into
prayer. So the next time you watch a cowboy movie, take a closer look at the horses.
And the next time you are casting about for resources to aid your praying, remember your
lips and your finger tips.