Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The secret of prayer…

This is the secret of prayer: to allow oneself to be led by the Spirit. Prayer must not be cast as a struggle to think only of God or to create void and discard distractions. In the poverty of dryness and distraction one must remain before the divine Friend with all one's life exposed, all the whirling thoughts and images that are there. Prayer must be truthful corresponding to the reality one carries within oneself, however miserable. If we satisfy ourselves with nice thoughts about God and believe that we are achieving something, we may be deceiving ourselves. Our concerns and concrete life are not what sets us apart from God, but our not knowing how to place our lives in God's hands and behold them with God's eyes. This is not just another method of concentration, but something necessary for prayer to be Christian. Anyone who reaches total interior silence knows that it is but the consequence of an effort to live only for God and to place all one's life in God's hands.

Kieran Cavanaugh: John of the Cross: Doctor of Light and Love, with thanks to Barbara

Painful experience has shown me that this is true. How often I used to put off prayer till I was "in the right frame of mind", or until I had "some quality time to spend with God". All that happened, of course, was that I put off praying, and when I felt really bad, say if Jan and I had had a row, or I had received some bad news, then I had nowhere to turn except the self-referential spiral of my own inner bitterness.

For me, this brings one of the enormous benefits of praying the hours. No matter how I am feeling, I pray when (or approximately when!) I have scheduled time for the next Office. Four times a day, I come to God in the silence, in the wonderful words of the Daily Office, in the Jesus Prayer, no matter how I am feeling, no matter what has been happening. There isn't really time for prevarication, for generating "nice thoughts about God", and the me God gets is the me that happens to be around at the time. This he can deal with – he is the God of love, and truth, not the God of the brave face, or the God of the pious attitude.

The times when I have most truly encountered God, when I really have met Christ in his mercy and his grace and his indefatigable love, have most often been the times when I have had least to give, when I was dry, and empty of everything but lust and grief, and so so tired. Then I knew it was him – there was nothing left of my pretend piety with which to generate illusions.

I often think we only know our Lord when we are at the end of ourselves. It's not an easy way to have to find him; but he did say himself that "the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life" (Matthew 7.14) so I suppose it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise…


Jan said...

Mike, I appreciate you telling your story in relation to prayer and the Daily Hours. That may be something I need to do to be more regular and consistent with prayer.

Sue said...

Ooh, dangerous territory, haha :) I like the idea of praying the hours, except my inner rebel would feel too constricted by such a thing. Maybe when I grow up I will give it a whirl :)

Having CFS I guess was one thing that taught me to pray whenever, because there weren't too many days where I was feeling wonderful and everything was great, and I was so in the midst of everything. And anyway, the great relief that came when I realised that God was big enough to take my grumpiness - even my outright hostility. What a revelation :)

While I was reading this sentence of yours:

"In the poverty of dryness and distraction one must remain before the divine Friend with all one's life exposed"

... I got to thinking mystical. Thinking about that verse abut entering into his sufferings, and how multidimensional that is, but wondering if in some great cosmic way every time we enter into prayer raw and needy and like the big babies we so often are when all of our artifice is stripped away, I was wondering if this deal also goes the other way. Sometimes I wonder if there is this great space where we can only enter in openheartedly and vulnerable, and there in that space we enter into him hanging on the cross. I wonder if, hanging there, he could see all of the prayers of all of those who love him all the way down through the ages and they were a comfort to him.

Anyway, the thought is a comfort to me.

Tausign said...

This perseverance in the routine of prayer is true spiritual common sense. Imagine if we approached our most important family relations in such a manner as we only show up when we feel in the mood. Just as a vow of marriage engenders responsibility as well as privilege, so too does our most Primordial Relationship come rain or shine.

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

Thank you for this post. I can't tell you how discouraged I was when I first started trying centering prayer / meditation (whatever term you want to use), and read so many descriptions that made me feel I was doing it all wrong. The emphasis on emptying the mind just about killed my desire to learn how to commune with God, and finally I had to just close the books and trust that the Spirit would help me. This quotation is filled with God's grace, and I think it gives great hope.