Several weeks ago the first reading for Mass one day was the story of Moses meeting with God in a tent during the Israelites’ time in the dessert. “The tent, which was called the meeting tent, Moses used to pitch at some distance away, outside the camp. Anyone who wished to consult the LORD would go to this meeting tent outside the camp. Whenever Moses went out to the tent, the people would all rise and stand at the entrance of their own tents, watching Moses until he entered the tent. As Moses entered the tent, the column of cloud would come down and stand at its entrance while the LORD spoke with Moses” (Exodus 33.7-8). This “tent” was a visible sign to the people of God’s promise that God would be with them on their journey. It was the regular place where Moses would meet God.
Now, as I reflected on this passage, there were a couple of things in particular that struck me. The first was that going to the tent to consult with God was a regular discipline for Moses. He didn’t have an idea one day just to pitch a tent, and see what happened. And his going to the tent was not an occasional occurrence. Rather, he had a regular place and a regular habit of meeting with God. It was in the tent that Moses spent time with God.
Second, it is also important to notice that Moses erected the tent “outside the camp.” It was not in the middle of the hustle and bustle of everyday life, but outside the camp. It was a special place where one thing and one thing only happened: Moses met God. And as Moses walked into the tent, the heavens opened and a pillar of cloud descended to rest on the entrance.
I think this passage tells us something important about how we are to pray. It reminds us that just as Moses had a regular time and place where he met God, so too you and I need a regular time and place for prayer. Now in saying this I want to be clear. We can pray anywhere. But I believe a regular time and place for prayer can be a big help to our prayer life. In the years since I have been ordained, wherever I have lived, I’ve always had a special place (or at least a special chair) for prayer, and I try not to do anything else in that space. There is something about walking into that space, or sitting in a particular chair, that helps me prepare for and enter into prayer.
In addition to a regular place for prayer—away from distractions and interruptions—a regular time for prayer is also very helpful. When I was first ordained, while I prayed morning prayer prior to Mass, I tried to reserve an hour or so for prayer in the late afternoon before dinner and evening meetings. This worked for a while, but I found that often this time got interrupted and/or abbreviated by other pressing (?) matters. About twenty years ago I decided that I need to switch my prayer time to the morning—and I am not a morning person. It was the only way, though, that I could spend some interrupted time with God in prayer.
Walking with God in the midst of all of life is important, but to draw closer to God in order to “hear” the voice of God speaking to our hearts, minds, and souls, we need those special times and places when we can withdraw from the hustle and bustle of the world and spend uninterrupted time alone with God.
It is our abiding belief that God dwells with us—that God abides with us. We need to work, though, to make this truth a reality in our lives and not just a belief. The challenge for us is not to let ourselves think: “Wouldn’t it have been great to be like Moses and meet with God in the tent of meeting?” The reality is that we can meet God each day in our prayer. If we can realize this amazing gift, we can live in intimacy with God each day, and the world will see the promises of our God lived out through us.