EVERYONE loves a good surprise! The best and most memorable surprises come from the people we love the most. This often happens on special occasions such as birthdays, wedding anniversaries. and others drawn from each family’s unique traditions or customs.

A surprise can be described as an unexpected celebration for someone, highlighted by giving a valuable thing or by hosting an event. But what is celebrated is not the gift or event but a person. The material elements are mere tokens of honor representing love, appreciation, gratitude, or recognition of a particular virtue(s) in the individual.

Although people will never lose the thrill and fun of receiving surprises, we are seeing that most of these occasions no longer have a deep and lasting impact. This is because many surprises focus on the things that are given rather than on the person himself/herself. This is a one of the consequences of our hyper-materialistic world.

If you and I are longing to discover a new and lasting surprise, it can be discovered in and through prayer. Pope Francis stressed that, “Without prayer, there can be no surprise!”

One wonders what surprise(s) prayer could offer. In such a silent and secluded activity, is it possible to be swept away and awakened to something exhilarating, unforgettable, and converting?

The means and effort required to pray undoubtedly cannot compete with a fireworks display, a multi-media presentation, a dance or theatrical show, and more. These naturally please the senses and entertain us. Prayer, however, does not attempt to achieve this.

So how can prayer surprise us?

Our experience of life’s many material surprises are captured by our five senses. These are internally composed and engraved as cherished memories in our minds and hearts. The result is some sort of spiritual or soulful experience that we treasure more than the material surprise (i.e. gift, food or card) itself.

Prayer still requires our five external senses, but we have to exercise them to aid the senses of the soul and prepare us for the surprises that prayer and other spiritual engagements offer.

Naturally, the surprise doesn’t come at one go! Like any surprise, we are recipients of an unexpected gift, thus we must be patient and enter the portal of spiritual encounter through prayer.

Entering prayer is no mysterious activity. The simple effort to maintain silence, find a space and topic to bring to prayer is already sufficient to groove us into it. What is important is to have a clear mindset: “I want to pray!”

As one patiently gains the habit of prayer, he discovers the first surprise: silence. It isn’t simply the absence of noise. What is surprising is that silence has something soulfully delicious in it.

With silence come other surprises: serenity and space. Since there is a concerted effort to remove unnecessary distractions in our spiritual dialogue, one’s mind, heart, and passions begin to be more at rest. One creates space with identity and substance.

With silence, serenity, and space come the surprises of personal awareness and examination. This may all seem like we are just talking to ourselves, but more and more we become aware of the most beautiful surprise when we pray: presence!

There is Someone with us while we pray!

I cannot really describe it, or say that I always experience it, but as one journeys through this spiritual adventure, he becomes more sensitive that he or she is not (and never) alone.

This is the most wonderful surprise: there is Someone giving us what the “world cannot give.” And if we allow Him to guide and show us, our life would become a surprising conversion.