We are told that St. Francis used to spend whole nights praying the same prayer: “O God, who are you? And God, who am I?” Evelyn Underhill claims it’s almost the perfect prayer. The abyss of your own soul and the abyss of the nature of God have opened up, and you are falling into both of them simultaneously. Now you are in the true realm of Mystery and grace, where everything good happens!
Notice how the prayer of Francis is not stating anything but just asking open-ended questions. It is the humble, seeking, endless horizon prayer of the mystic that is offered out of complete trust. You know that the prayer will be answered, because there has already been a previous answering, a previous epiphany, a previous moment where the ground opened up and you knew you were in touch with infinite mystery and you knew you were infinite mystery. You only ask such grace-filled questions, or any question for that matter, when they have already begun to be answered.
Richard Rohr, adapted from Following the Mystics through the Narrow Gate
I’m almost afraid to add any of my own words here, in case I spoil it! Rohr is so very right when he says you can only ask such questions when you are already living, however imperfectly, in the answers. Like Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the Temple (1 King 8:22ff) we cannot pray like this unless our Father shows us how by his Holy Spirit living in us. That’s why it’s so hard to explain these kind of things to the sceptical – it just doesn’t make any sense without the grace of God already drawing us into this particular path of prayer.
What I love is that open-endedness – that refusal to put limits to the answer God might give. It’s like all of the different ways of contemplative prayer: our questions, our intercessions, our longing, even, are not articulated – but we allow God access to all that we are at the very innermost place, that only the Spirit knows, not even we ourselves (Romans 8:26-27). All we know is that we change, gradually or suddenly, becoming imperceptibly more like Christ, following him more closely, longing for his presence, longing to know him for who he is, not for what he might give. The prayer, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” becomes as intensely personal as it once seemed lost in eschatological distance.
We cannot do any of this ourselves. We can’t even want to do it without the Spirit drawing us, filling us, longing within us. It is all grace, all from God himself…