Very often, especially during Lent, I choose to work on becoming more trusting of You and putting things in Your hands. While I think I have progressed some in this regard, I cannot help but thinking that the prayer of one who truly trusts in You should be very simple instead of going down a list or litany of daily petitions and thanksgivings as I do. My prayer should simply be:Into Your hands, O Lord, I entrust this or thatsituation. You already know what’s in my heart and I need but think of them and put them in Your hands.This, on the surface might seem to minimize prayer. It may minimize a certain form of prayer but it also brings us to the awareness that for one who faithfully puts his/her trust in You the best prayer is on the contemplative level.
Secondly, if I am ever able to acquire a mature and genuine trust in You, it will also manifest itself in a better trust of others – and this is really the hard part for me since, generally, I am an arch-distruster of others. But, if I should get there, I should never worry about what You want of me or what I should do with my life because I trust You and You will let me know.
In a sense, our vocal prayer is like money, or food, or shelter, or clothes – it is among the barenecessities of life. And like the money, food, clothing and shelter we are compelled to provide for those most in need, so should our prayers for those most in need be included. While Mother Theresa would have, I’m sure, appreciated our prayers for her, they were and are needed more for the physically and spiritually poor she served.
We often pray for people because we love them and they are close to us – a part of our lives. That’s not bad. But the list, if arranged by priority, should be tilted more toward urgency. One tends to think of that one soul in purgatory most in need, but then that one person has made purgatory and one more urgently in need would be the one in danger of even missing purgatory. The sick always come to mind, especially those closest to us. But among them those most urgently in need would be those whose illness has curtailed and, in some cases, actually denied the pursuit of an active relationship with You. The materially destitute come to mind. But they are, in general, very dear to You. So, among them, themost urgently in need would seem to be those whose poverty has embittered them against You.
The common denominator, therefore, of those most in need of our prayers, it would seem, are those who, for whatever reason or condition, do not recognize and accept Your love. Prayer like this becomes for me a way of conveying the good will I have such a hard time conveying socially. I am more comfortable pleading the case of another in silence and solitude with You.
While the needs of those we love are most salient to us, the needs of those we do not know at all may be far more urgent in a spiritual sense. Membership in Your Mystical Body binds us all, in various way, to one another in You.
My reflections have led me to think about an aspect of prayer that I spend the least amount of time doing but which You are the most deserving of. They say the three ends of prayer are petition, thanksgiving, and praise. I know most of the time I’m petitioning You for something and the remainder of the time I’m thanking You; yet, how often do I just praise You? Singing at Mass is a good way of praising You; so is the “Glory Be” when said with thought. But I think the best prayer of praise is the life a person leads and especially the way that life bears witness to You. So often, when the opportunity arises, we consider our own potential feelings of embarrassment or discomfort and we cover this up. I was recently helping a friend do some work and , when done, said I had to go because I had an “appointment” – the word I used instead of saying I meant to spend a particular hour of that day at home, with You, in prayer.
There is great joy in prayer! Who is there in all creation with whom I can converse in silence but You? You hear the words in my mind before they are formed on my lips. This interiority of prayer is a pure joy.To talk to You, telepathically, as it were, is becoming not just a looked-forward-to part of myday but ajoyful compulsion to experience the peace of such moments with You. Add to this the longed-for moments of surprise when You touch my being and each venture of prayer becomes a time of joyful wonder and hope.
I’m finding too the meanings of words like “reflection” and “recollection” as they pertain to prayer. In the past they have only been vaguely understood, but recollection and reflection have become major factors for me in daily prayer.
Contemplation, for one such as I, who am distracted by so much around me, necessitates frequent recollection and reflection just to maintain a minimum focus. This nudges me toward a higher level of prayer life, yet still, as Merton says, with one foot firmly on the sham of the world and the other in the sham of contemplative life. But this, to me, is a new place to walk and a stepping stone to the next rung on St. John’s ladder.
I’m not sure of any other reason for writing to You so frequently other than the fact that I have a most affectionate proclivity for this medium because of the channel it seems to opens for me to hear You.
When I think about it and look back over these letters, one thing strikes me about myself. It is something that maybe You are trying to point out to me: knowledge precedes love.When I write You, it is often about some “heady” matter of spiritual understanding. Years ago I took hold of a phrase that I heard or read somewhere that the more you know about someone, the more you are able to love. There’s a part of that that a literal reading renders somewhat detrimental. By Your grace I am just coming to see that.
A while back I wrote to You and suggested the only thing I could do for You was to love You. This I believe, but I see myself equating reading about what theologians, spiritual writers, and saints have to say about You – knowledge – with loving You. Is it not possible that sometimes the head can lead away from the heart? I always tell my wife that in matters of love one’s actions speak louder than words, yet I continue to bombard You with words. I hear You in Matthew 15: 1-9. Thank You.
You know well that over certain periods of time I fall into set “grooves” in my prayer. Certain times for praying for the needs most present to me, certain times for struggling(willingly and eagerly) withcentering prayer, meditation and contemplation, certain times for reading and certain times for writing to You. I think the writing is most fruitful. Whether it’s my natural inclination to write or just the opportunity to carefully frame my thoughts, I seem to hear You better talking back to me through my pen. I wish wholeheartedly that I could do this in centering prayer, but just “being” in intense unity with You, without letting my mind frame thoughts, images or words– just existing peacefully in Your presence is a difficult, though very desirable, thing to do. To tell the mind to “STOP!” and let You fill it, does not come very naturally. There is so much clutter, and the mind’s business will not allow it to be inactive, totally at peace, not thinking for even an instant. How do I get You into me? Maybe that last question says something about my part of our relationship – I somehow think that I must control You instead of just letting You be. I and my mind, it seems, have a hard time giving You the freedom that You give me.
For one in love withYou, life is surely a quest. In many respects the term “quest” describes much of the activity of our lives. Like a maze, we puzzle through stray paths, dead ends, false starts and stops.It can become a “project”, and, when it does, we know our “false self” has taken over. It is this false self that encourages us to view our quest as something we control. The irony is that while we fantasize that we are seeking You, in fact, You are seeking us and our own fantasies about our quest can get in the way.
Basil Pennington describes the “false self” as our perception of what we do, what we have, and what others think of us. When our quest revolves around our “selves”: what we do, what we have, and our image of the way others see us, we become the goal of our quest.
You must be placed firmly and blatantly at the center of every aspect of our quest. It is the constant effort to find You in what we are doing, not in our own egos. In vocal prayer, in meditation, in contemplation, in these letters, it is the frank and humble recognition that it is You, not me.
I think a major aspect of what You meant when You said we must become as little children has to do with this aspect of our quest. When we are little almost everything we say or do centers on the godlike presence of our parents. In whatever we do they must be considered, for our whole world revolves around them. It is in this way that we should love You. You are both the goal and means of our quest. It is not me, but You in me, and I must keep this before me. It is not a “project”. What is actively incumbent uponme is not so much to pursue You, but rather to learn how to let You pursue me and to be open to every form of my capture. It is not me, it is You!
There seems to me to be a fundamental need in man to worship. I don’t necessarily mean this in a spiritual sense either. Somehow, it seems, we must devote ourselves to something. It’s the way we’re made. Whether it is some worldly materialistic passion, our own ego, or some other golden calf. There is an innate compulsion to worship.
The term “hero-worship” has some application here. We often worship by trying toemulate that which we most admire in another. It’s a premise (especially for kids) that is fundamental to the advertising industry. How man worships, therefore, is by emulation, by identification that emulation brings, and by attaining a certain oneness with the object of worship.
When one makes oneself the object of worship, it becomes implosively destructive. Pride and conceit become desirable goals. But, when the object of worship is another, the center is taken off the self and humility has a chance for growth.
It seems sure that worship is tied to humility. When one becomes more concerned with the need to worship, it becomes a quest. This quest to worship manifests itself in an ever-increasing desire for knowledge about the object of worship and, as I said, a desire for a kind of oneness. All of which brings me to You as the source. What I do with Your gift of life should encompass frequent thoughts and actions of emulation in the direction of oneness – that is, worship!
Only You know the “fair trade agreement” that drives the quantitative measure of my prayers to You. The influence of a worldly concept of justice and fairness, of indebtedness, and even residual effects of the “Golden Rule” may be at the core, I’m not sure. But I know I am driven to regarding prayers of thanksgiving in near-equal duration and quantity to those offered in the original petition – even though I know that You know how truly grateful I am. I am given to anxiety about offering more prayers for petitions on behalf of one individual than another. For example, my father has been dead for some years now and I pray for him daily. I worry about that because he died first and will have more prayers than my mother when she dies. Then too, interior prayer renders me even more muddled because it’s just a You-me thing and seems to leave the quantitative Hail Marys, Our Fathers, and Glory Bes exclusively for petition and thanksgivings regarding others while keeping the exclusive “qualitative” prayers of contemplation for myself.
We know from You that persistence in petition is effective even if it importunes You - in fact, because it does so. Yet, how can the length of our importunity on behalf of one petition be qualitatively measured against another started later in time. What we fight here is our own concept of allotted time in whichto doso.To paraphrase something I’ve seen on a T-shirt:“So much to pray for – so little time!” It may just be that neither the quantity, nor my own concept of quality are of any great real importance – just intention!
There are times in a day of doing and there are times in a day of just being. In America we are infatuated with efficiency – with getting the job done – and so the times of doing are made to seem more valuable. The times of just being tend to fall into the category of “down time” or wasted time – times when we are not doing something. Yet, it is precisely in this “down time”, this“ wasted”time when we are not preoccupied with doing something that may, in the end, be most fruitful. Certainly this is not true in a monetary sense, for that is the concern, largely, of the times of doing. Rather, the benefit of the times of just being may be to our true nature, our spirit. Often, because there is nothing to do, we fill these times with trash instead of treasure.
Here, in this life, time is what we have – and not all that much of it! My programming makes me painfully aware of this and makes me driven to fill that short time in wise ways. The popularinclination enhanced by the work ethic in this country is to not just stand there, but to do something. I find myself, from waking to sleeping, strongly influenced by this. Yet, such frenzied doing ignores the need of our spirits to just be. In fact, it is in being that we truly nourish the spirit.
But we find it hard to know how to just be. We “waste” time most fruitfully when we set aside all doing, all busy-ness and simply open our being to You. This, for me, is what contemplation is about. In this is the cornerstone of prayer. Yet, we shun this emptiness in the way nature abhors a vacuum. We confuse the role of the servant with serving (doing something) rather than simply being subservient.
The object of the transcendental sense can be touched occasionally not by an act, performance or gesture but by the attainment of a submissive emptiness. It is, in this sense, that “just standing there” may be more valuable that doing something.