Sunday, October 3, 2010

Prayer is not always a spiritual picnic

"... the essence of all prayer - conversation with God. Call prayer whatever you will, call it mental or vocal, infused or acquired, the prayer that is really prayer is the time spent in an intimate chat with the Creator. From this point a soul begins to work; from this point a soul goes out to all degrees of contemplation. And this is possible for anyone.

Is it easy? Well, apparently not. Of course, there must be some who have no difficulty in prayer. They are the ones who cannot tear themselves from chapel, who are restrained as by some divine magnetic force; and although we thank God for their presence among us, we still must admit that their housework usually suffers. But for the greater number of us, prayer is not always a spiritual picnic. But then we are at it not for the pleasure we get from it, but for the pleasure we give to God by our willing sacrifice. And we pray not because it is easy, but because it is hard. Whether we receive consolation or not is of little consequence. The important thing is that we are there. We are trying. We are reaching out for God, searching for this Illusive Stranger, plumbing the depths of our shallow mind in the quest of Him. And we never know but that the next hour of mental prayer might bring with it an experience that is rarely given to men. And, of course, we might never receive anything like it. But if God someday decides to bless us with a special gift of prayer, we want to be there when it comes.

People are bound to ask us, 'You who are professedly contemplatives, how is it that you have difficulty in prayer? We in the world, we are expected to have trouble praying. But not you!'

It all boils down to one thing. If we are all human (and I think we are), then we are all subject to the same blights of human nature. That is why, being men, we meet in our prayer the triple retarder of weariness, dryness, and distraction. These things do not nullify the efficacy of prayer but they do make it increasingly tedious.

First of all, why must we succumb to weariness during prayer? Why must this cross slow down our reactions, numb us, smother us so that all our efforts are aimed at simply staying awake? Yet, sadly enough, this happens sometimes. But we keep trying. In our novitiate days Brother Bertram was always tired. Many times in the silence of the choir, with gentle warmth hissing from the radiator, amid the shadows and the dim lights, Bertram would ask: 'Dear God, why must I always be so tired?' But he never go any answer. The day came when he thought that by making his prayer while standing, he would be able to keep himself alive and radiant, but he toppled over the brother in front of him. That has been known since as 'Bertram's last stand.'

Then there is dryness. You kneel there and look in vain for some light. You seek out a bit of God's warmth, yearn to drink at the fountains of living water like the hart, but there is nothing. So you pray and you pray and you pray.

And distractions! A novice expects so much from his life. He believes that in time he will arrive at a certain stage wherein he will be above such lowly things as distractions. But always they are there. We cannot seem to leave our preoccupations outside the door of the choir. We cannot check our thoughts as we could check our hat or coat. Despite our efforts we drag them into choir with us. Always the unwritten sermon, the unsolved case, the unfulfilled obligation, or the hapless sinner - worries big and small, coming with us to our prayer, stealing our thoughts away from God, making us hate ourselves for our innate weakness. Still we pray.

You see, it is all we have. We have seen the needs of the world. We have divined our own inability to cope with the monstrosity of sin in our midst. We have become aware of the restriction in having only two hands with which to nurse the cosmic illness of our day. So we have turned in prayer to God who can accomplish all  good. We could only work in remote corners but God with His power and His mercy can reach out to the world. So we leave it up to God.

Does it work? Is it worth it? Well, if it isn't, if prayer does not work, if the contemplative life is a big hoax, then we have wasted our lives. And if we have wasted our lives, all I can say is that nobody has ever paid such a high price for failure.

Let the man who does not believe in prayer, forget prayer. We shall pray. And in the end we shall see who comes out on top. For no one can possibly give himself over to prayer without arriving at a greater knowledge of God. No one can possibly dedicate his life to contemplation without someday finding, even while on this earth, a portion of heaven, a share in the divinity, and a wisdom that can be surpassed only by our eventual participation in the Beatific Vision itself."

-- Men in Sandals by Fr Richard of the Immaculate Conception (Madden), ocd

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