During my time filming the first series of MasterChef Australia, Julie Goodwin became something of spiritual beacon for me. Filming the show was tough…for a lot of existential reasons, which I won’t go into here. But every few days or so Julie and I would connect in some way. A wink, a hug, a quick chat. Which said, “I see you”. I remain supremely grateful to her for this. It saved me.
I knew Julie was religous. Although few would have. It wasn’t until our last few weeks together on the show that we chatted about her beliefs, and about prayer, and how it all played out for her in her life. It (her faith and prayer) played a big part in the way she held things together on the show… and then won.
I watched it unfurl, naturally.
And it looked like grace. Julie had grace. And she had trust in grace. She always knew she’d win.
I’m not religious. But I seek. And I pray. I asked Julie to tell me about how she prays…here’s her supremely graceful thoughts, which I know she put a lot of care into sharing:
Below are my thoughts on prayer. (Disclaimer: the views expressed below are those of the writer and are not necessarily those of the Catholic Church or anyone else I mention!)
To me, prayer is whatever is expressed between a person and the greater universe – whatever their
God is, whatever their heart feels. However they express their wonder. I was born a Catholic and therefore that is my church history. I could just as easily have been born into a Hindu family, or Muslim, or Buddhist, or any number of denominations Christian and non-Christian. I believe that most religions have the same intent. However, I was born a Catholic, that is my community, it is what I believe and it is how I first learned prayer.
Raised a Catholic, as a child the prayers I was taught to say brought me comfort. They warded off the monster under the bed and made me feel watched over, protected and safe. These prayers served as a talisman, a comfort. They were a gift to me from my mother.
Growing up as part of the Catholic community, prayer was of course a huge part of the Mass, the weekly ritual of going to church – the prayers that were recited as one voice throughout the congregation. This kind of prayer to me, is an expression of community, a declaration before people who I know and love that I am a part of that group, that we believe in the same basic tenets and that we are there for each other.
To me these prayers serve as a reminder of the history of our faith, they serve as a community building exercise, and they serve as the foundation upon which our shared life is built.
As I have grown older I have arrived at some different views of prayer. It doesn’t necessarily need words. While still believing fully in the value of organised prayer and public prayer, of the rote prayers we comfort our children with and the prayers that represent the deepest and most meaningful events in our church, I have discovered a more personal understanding of prayer.
After much thought I can categorise these personal, heartfelt, direct prayers into three categories.
WHY. PLEASE. THANK YOU.
WHY has been the most futile prayer for me. God has mysterious ways, right? But still I ask why. During some not-so-long-ago terrible, terrible events for my extended family, I began to demand of God – WHY?
Why should innocent, beautiful, faithful people suffer?
Why would you inflict that on them? When you are supposed to be kind, and merciful?
Why do my children, protected from as much as I could protect them from, have to suddenly experience grief on this unimaginable scale?
And occasionally less lofty WHY prayers – why did I have to get my mothers’ short legs AND her hyper-emotional nature? God how is that fair?
One day, during a heartbreaking time for our family, I got sick of asking why. I stood under the most spectacular sunset I had ever seen, an insulting display of divine generosity in the midst of our anguish, and I screamed at the sky. I didn’t ask why that evening. I asked what. I think the words that came out of my mouth were:
“What else have you got? Come on, what else can you throw at us? Bring it on, you bastard! Bring it on!”
So, WHY doesn’t really work. I now proceed under the assumption that if I am meant to know the answer to the question why, then I will be shown the answer. I don’t like it but I almost always accept it.
The next prayer that often rises unbidden in my heart is PLEASE. It comes at all sorts of times, I am sure that sometimes I am even unaware that I am engaging in a prayer. I am also sure that sometimes it is unworthy of being a prayer.
Please give me the strength to get through this.
Please let this light turn green, please!
Please God, let him not be badly hurt
Please let the test results come back negative
Please let him kick this goal
Sometimes the PLEASE prayer is nothing more than a hugely gathered breath and a wishing with every fibre of my being, then a great exhalation of relief. (Or not.)
3. THANK YOU
The most potent prayer in my life, is THANK YOU. The hymn books and missals in my church are full of prayers giving thanks. My THANK YOU prayer is not always conscious; I am thankful for the most part of each of my days.
When I see the wide, blue hot sky… thank you
When I survey my own back yard full of dear friends, screaming kids and great food..thank you
When I feel by my side, the energy radiating from my best friend, life partner and husband…thank you
When I travel and truly come to understand how very lucky we Australians are…thank you
This prayer is a shivering of the heart, an opening of the eyes, a moment of awareness in a busy day, an out-loud beat of a grateful heart.
When I say goodnight to my sleeping boys, safe in their beds, healthy and warm, dreaming their ambitious boyish dreams, and still mine for now…