"Prayer, if we pay attention, if we deepen, breaks out of linguistic binds. Takes flight. Bores deep. It's free-form verse. As near as our next breath. I've come to believe that prayer — the prayer I love best — is the practice of paying attention. And because I started paying close attention, I realized that for some of the holiest souls I know, prayer begins, prayer deepens, as they slip beneath the cloak of whatever is their prayerful verb of choice — baking bread, sowing seed and tilling farmer's field, daubing gold dust to oak plant in the icon writer's light-bathed studio, to begin to name the quotidian that transcends to mystical. It's the soulful discipline that opens the channel to the Holy, blocks our earthly distraction, sharpens, tightens focus, and culminates in meditative thrum, a communion with the Divine, one that honors the word's Latin roots, or as used by Augustine, in belief that the word was derived from com- ("with, together") + unus ("oneness, union"). Together, oneness.

"I can't help thinking of Saint Francis of Assisi, who is famously said to have told his followers: Preach the Gospel at all times if necessary, use words.

"Prayer might come in the act of tending a garden. Or keeping watch on the wilderness from high atop the forest ranger's lookout tower. Prayer, I've found, is what a farmer does when she genuflects amid the soybean rows and rattles away the hungry Japanese beetle. Prayer unfurls in soprano, offered up at the deathbed at the hour of someone's final breath. Prayer is what fills the heart as the midwife reaches for the newborn's crowning head and eases him into the holy light of delivery. Prayer, for me, is most often born of mothering.

"It's what I breathed the night I climbed into the children's hospital ambulance and sped through miles and miles of city traffic to get my first-born from a closer-to-home emergency room to the downtown pediatric ICU, in the long, dark hours after he broke his neck. It's what kept me, years later and more than once, on the telephone until the dawn came, when the one who placed the midnight call from college was the one who has long considered me his first and last line of defense. And it's just as certainly what percolates my joy when I slip a love note under a pillow or to the bottom of a lunch bag.

"Mothering a child the most sacred calling of my life begs all I am and all I've got. And then some. Without the inside line to angels, saints, and Holy God, I'd not have made it, not even close, to labor and delivery. Nor a single day thereafter."