Today’s reading is Mark 1:35-39:
And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.
If the experience of studying at Harvard could be summed up in one word, I’m rather confident that the word would be “busy.” We are at any and every moment swamped with either schoolwork or extracurriculars. It often seems that we derive some sort of sick pleasure from afflicting ourselves with ever greater obligations. We are only expected to take four classes per semester, but many of us take five. We pile on extracurriculars in the vain pursuit of relaxation, or – God forbid – in the hope of padding our resumes. And if we can still find room for it on our schedules, we take up a job for spare income, because man does not live by dining hall food alone, but by Panera Bread and Otto’s. It is no wonder we have no time to pray.
Jesus found himself in a similar predicament. His loving ministry had such an impact on those he encountered that he was constantly followed by large crowds of needy people who desired his teaching and healing. This repeatedly caused difficulties for him, and nearly eliminated his opportunity for “free time” (see Mark 3:9-10, 20, 6:30-34). I’d warrant that he was at least as busy as a Harvard student. But he knew that he could not allow his crowded schedule to cause him to neglect time with his Father. In fact, it seems that the reason he woke up so early to pray was not primarily to start his day off on the right foot. Rather, he prayed early because that was the only time he could escape from the crowds. We see here in verse 36 that he did not stop praying because he wanted to; he stopped because he was finally found by those who were searching for him. Christ literally snuck away in order to pray.
As a busy student myself, I find this attitude towards prayer to be wonderfully effective. Rather than trying to fit prayer into his busy schedule, Christ sought out prayer time as solace from his busy schedule. He fled from his work as soon as the opportunity arose, and spent as much time in solitude with his Father as he could. Over the last year, I’ve been making an effort towards this kind of prayer. My place of solitude is Memorial Church, and my time of prayer is whenever I am reminded to flee. Sitting alone in pew #74 of the usually empty sanctuary, I take time to be engulfed by the loving presence of God. I thank him for his guidance, for his beautiful Being, for his salvation from sin. I present to him my stresses, and he reminds me that he will take care of me and that I have no cause to worry. I read his Word, and he reveals to me glorious truths. I pray, and he answers.
Part of what makes this time with God so beautiful is that it is in a place that I have set apart for God. I often find that when I try to spend time with God in my room, or in any place that I am all too familiar with, I am constantly distracted by everything else that demands my attention. But not in my place of solitude. There, I can turn off my phone, leave homework aside, and devote my attention to God, because I know that I am there for Him and Him alone. I am there to flee.
This, of course, is not to be the only type of prayer we participate in. Much can be said for a more scheduled type of prayer, and remember: we are to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). But I can testify that the type of prayer that Jesus exemplifies here – the flight to the Father – is powerful. Admittedly, I do not visit pew #74 nearly as often as I would like. But when I do, the rest of my day is filled with a peace that surpasses understanding, no matter how many essays I have left to write. I cannot help but think that Jesus felt similarly, when he snuck away to pray.
Obasi Shaw ’17 is an English concentrator in Winthrop House.