Wednesday, March 22, 2006

A New Language of Prayer

I came across this wonderful article by Ann Kline on the Shalem Institute website ( - do read it prayerfully - I think Ann is saying some vitally important things...

A New Language of Prayer

"We are going to have to create a new language of prayer. And this new language of prayer has to come out of something which transcends all our traditions, and comes out of the immediacy of love."
Thomas Merton

I love the word "radical." It speaks to me of a kind of dramatic force that overcomes resistance with its sheer audacity and undeniable truth. Not surprisingly, I am attracted to the idea of radical prayer, prayer so powerful that I am fundamentally changed by it. Heaven knows that kind of radical grace is the only way real change in me is going to happen. Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote that true prayer is subversive, overturning our limited sense of ourselves and transforming us into partners with God's vision for the world. That kind of prayer speaks deeply to me.

What is the language of radical prayer? When Thomas Merton wrote about a new language of prayer, I do not think he meant something the world had never heard before. In fact, I think the language of prayer he points to is quite old. A clue to what Merton may have meant can be found in the words he wrote in a letter to Heschel, where he spoke about his "latent ambition to be a true Jew underneath his Catholic skin." The kind of conversion that Merton suggests was not one of religion; Merton's Catholicism was not in jeopardy. What I hear in those words is a desire for a conversion of heart such that each tradition could hear the deeper language of prayer they already share.

Our shared prayer language is the language of compassion. It is, to me, the true language of God. As Heschel wrote: "Who is God to you? There is only one answer that survives all the theories which we carry to the grave. He is full of compassion." Compassion is a dialogue of trust in our shared humanity, and in God's unifying presence.

The language of compassion is quite radical. It asks nothing less of us than a total conversion to God, to a unified vision of life. This is what I hear in Merton's words: "Love is my true identify, Selflessness is my true self. Love is my true character. Love is my true name." It is echoed in the words of Heschel, who called prayer "an invitation to God to intervene in our lives, to let His will prevail in our affairs; it is the opening of a window to Him in our will, an effort to make him the Lord of our soul."

We can see in the lives of Heschel and Merton how radical prayer was for them. It made them, as scholar Shaul Maggid put it, "heretics of modernity." Deeply committed to their religions, they challenged those traditions to address where adherence to tradition without heart had led to callousness, shallowness or hypocrisy. Critical of modern life and its temptations, they were also appreciative of all its potential.

The language of radical prayer moved Heschel out of his study and into the march for civil rights with Martin Luther King, Jr. It moved Merton to speak out against war and intolerance and, as a consequence, experience the censorship of his community. Radical prayer puts us at odds with whatever is complacent in us or society. Radical prayer is radical trust in a vision of a world overturned by reverence.

Heschel and Merton taught that there is only one way to develop this radical language of prayer: in silence. As Heschel wrote: "Our awareness of God is a syntax of silence, in which our souls mingle with the divine, in which the ineffable in us communes with the ineffable beyond us." In silence we find a way to touch the wellspring of compassion, the words that God speaks in us. In silence, we find the courage to speak these words in the ways we act in the world. Silence teaches us how to speak (H Nouwen).

Today we are struggling with the challenges of pluralism. We do not all believe the same way, look the same way, live the same way. As I watch and listen to events that increasingly polarize and divide us, I hear echoes of the past. As a Jew I am well aware of the ways fear can turn the heart of a whole nation to stone so that it can no longer feel a shared humanity. More and more I am convinced that the only thing that speaks to these times is radical prayer, radical compassion.

Radical prayer, as Merton tells us, "requires not talent, not mere insight, but sorrow pouring itself out in love and trust." The challenge and possibilities of this prayer fills me with "the fear of God." It is at once too big for me to imagine and something I can not turn away from. But slowly, breath by breath in the silence, I can feel my heart softening, strengthening, learning this new language of prayer. May we all take a deep breath, quiet our fears and begin to teach our hearts to speak.

© Copyright 2005 Shalem Institute. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Salutary remarks...

In technological society, in which the means of communication and signification have become fabulously versatile, and are at the point of an even more prolific development, thanks to the computer with its inexhaustible memory and its capacity for immediate absorption and organization of facts, the very nature and use of communication itself becomes unconsciously symbolic. Though he now has the capacity to communicate anything, anywhere, instantly, man finds himself with nothing to say. Not that there are not many things he could communicate, or should attempt to communicate. He should, for instance, be able to meet with his fellow man and discuss ways of building a peaceful world. He is incapable of this kind of confrontation. Instead of this, he has intercontinental ballistic missiles which can deliver nuclear death to tens of millions of people in a few moments. This is the most sophisticated message modern man has, apparently, to convey to his fellow man. It is, of course, a message about himself, his alienation from himself, and his inability to come to terms with life.

From Love and Living by Thomas Merton, edited by Naomi Burton Stone and Br. Patrick Hart (San Diego, New York, London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1985) Page 64-65.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

This seems to be entirely true...

"If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men." - St. Francis of Assisi

Monday, March 13, 2006

Why the Jesus Prayer (and all contemplative prayer) matters...

"We must begin by frankly admitting that the first place in which to go looking for the world is not outside us but in ourselves. We are the world. In the deepest ground of our being we remain in metaphysical contact with the whole of that creation in which we are only small parts. Through our senses and our minds, our loves, needs, and desires, we are implicated, without possibility of evasion, in this world of matter and of men, of things and of persons, which not only affect us and change our lives but are also affected and changed by us… The question, then, is not to speculate about how we are to contact the world – as if we were somehow in outer space – but how to validate our relationship, give it a fully honest and human significance, and make it truly productive and worthwhile for our world."

From Love and Living by Thomas Merton, edited by Naomi Burton Stone and Br. Patrick Hart (San Diego, New York, London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1985) Page 120.

[Courtesy of the Thomas Merton Foundation]

"We have seen that the Jesus Prayer involves body, mind and spirit... The cosmic nature of the Prayer means that the believer lives as a human being in solidarity with all other human beings, and with the animal creation, together with the whole created order (the cosmos). All this is drawn into and affected by the Prayer. One person's prayers send out vibrations and reverberations that increase the power of the divine Love in the cosmos.

The Christian is well aware of the fact that the world is also evil. There is a falseness and alienation which has distracted and infected the world, and men and women of prayer, by the power of the Name of Jesus, stand against the cosmic darkness, and enter into conflict with dark powers... The power of the Jesus Prayer is the armour against the wiles of the devil, taking heed of the apostle's word, 'Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayers and supplications...' [Ephesians 6:18]"

From Praying the Jesus Prayer by Br Ramon SSF (Basingstoke: Marshall Pickering, 1988) Page 26.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

A Key Quote, I think ...

This from Thomas Merton just about sums it up for me at this precise moment!

“Let no one hope to find in contemplation an escape from conflict, from anguish or from doubt. On the contrary, the deep, inexpressible certitude of the contemplative experience awakens a tragic anguish and opens many questions in the depths of the heart like wounds that cannot stop bleeding. For every gain in deep certitude there is a corresponding growth of superficial ‘doubt.’ This doubt is by no means opposed to genuine faith, but it mercilessly examines and questions the spurious ‘faith’ of everyday life, the human faith which is nothing but the passive acceptance of conventional opinion.“

From New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton

(New York: New Directions Publishing Company, 1961) Page 12.