We are told that St. Francis used to spend whole nights praying the same prayer: “Who are you, God? And 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 a new 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 such a 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 yourself infinite mystery. You only ask such grace-filled questions, or any question for that matter, when they have already begun to be answered.
Somehow I find the openness of St Francis’ prayer extraordinarily moving. As I wrote the other day, we humans are very slow to trust, even in our own Creator and Redeemer. In our own prayer, we reach up to God, but only in response to his grace—to the movement of his Holy Spirit towards us. It’s a bit like a lightning stroke, perhaps—as the stepped leader reaches down from the cloud to earth, so a smaller streamer of opposite charge reaches up from earth to meet it. When they touch, the great lightning stroke itself is formed.
We are too prone to credit ourselves with the responsibility for our own spiritual lives. Thank God, we don’t have such a heavy burden to carry. Being created things, we depend entirely upon the mercy of God, Christ, of whom John wrote, “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” All that we are rests in God, and his touch awakens us to reach up to him, as a sleepy cat will sometimes reach up her paw to someone reaching down to touch her…