My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Prayer clarifies our hope and intentions. It helps us discover our true aspirations, the pangs we ignore, the longings we forget. It is an act of self-purification... It teaches us what to aspire to, implants in us the ideals we ought to cherish. Prayer is an invitation to God to intervene in our lives, to let God’s will prevail in our affairs; it is the opening of a window to God in our will, an effort to make God the Lord of our soul. We submit our interests to God's concern, and seek to be allied with what is ultimately right.
Abraham Joshua Heschel
Prayer simplifies things. When all around us, within and without, is desperately complicated, ambiguous and contradictory, prayer is one thing. Contemplative prayer, in whichever way, is very close to Jesus’ “one thing needed” (Luke 10:42). What is surprising, always, is how hard it is to remember this—to turn to prayer first, rather than as a last resort. We are so deeply marked by that original sin of wanting to “be like God” (Genesis 3:5) that we turn first to our own strength, cunning, experience, and to God last of all. Perhaps that’s why Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…” (Matthew 5:3) Only those whose internal resources are spent and drained—or who through long discipline have learned their own emptiness—are open enough to receive from God his limitless blessing, his endless strength. As the Lord said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
It’s quite remarkable, looking back over the past few years’ extraordinary difficulties, just how close God has been to me at those times when I have had nothing left. I have actually seen for myself what Paul meant when he wrote, “That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10)
We are called to “imitate Christ” as Thomas à Kempis put it. It is surely at the Cross that we see most clearly where this is likely to lead. Jesus did warn us (Matthew 16:24, among other references) and it is here that we come closest to him, as he drew close to us in that appalling act of redemption.
In all this God has blessed me in ways I couldn’t possibly have imagined, and often these days I just don’t know what to do with all the blessings! That, as much as anything, has been the reason I’ve been so quiet here. Maybe I shall have to share some more of this, loath though I am to go in for “confessional blogging…” Because it really is strangest thing. Why is it so hard to learn that God is good, to learn to trust that, to learn that there is such a thing as plain, honest joy, at the end of it all?