+PRAYER AS THE PATH TO KNOWING OUR DEEPEST SELVES Chap.Talk 2 Aug.’20
Recently I have been going through a book by a Fr Luigi Gioia, a Benedictine monk on prayer called Say It To God. I would like to share a few of his reflections with you this morning. In one of the chapters he speaks of “A Presence We Discover in Us’ and writes of how “the Lord himself opens a space for prayer in our hearts. He invites us there, to be alone with him, to find rest in him: ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ He awakes in us a longing to see our life centered on him.”
So much of prayer is really about coming to know ourselves as made for God, how restless we are, as St Augustine told us long ago, until we rest in God. Most of us live daily with a paradox for “there is something in us that feels uneasy with prayer and shies away from it, that repeatedly finds excuses for putting it off to another day.” One cannot help but wonder why this is the case, what it is that makes us even as religious, to run from what is true to our own deepest longing?
Jesus tells us, as you well remember from John’s gospel, how “the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.”(Jn 4:23) Prayer is meant to be the hub of our lives, something we are called to do all day long as though the most natural thing in the world. Gioia goes so far as to say “prayer is.. not only the thing our soul desires but also that which all humanity, indeed the whole of creation, desperately need.”
Many of us in our world today have become increasingly aware of how much humanity and all creation groans “in travail” as we face the spread of the virus, have been given fresh awareness of how racism affects our society, the growing consequences of climate change that seems to threaten the future of human life on our planet. More than ever, we are experiencing the wisdom of St Paul that “creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God… in the hope that it will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (8:20-21) We are all we want to be when we live as God’s very own children.
Prayer in this sense, is the most natural thing in the world, what our heavenly Father wants and expects more than anything from us. Continual prayer is the gift of our heavenly Father. The constant longing that arises from deep down within, is this pull coming from our heavenly Father. Jesus reminded us long ago that no one comes to him “unless the Father draws him.” This is as Gioia points out, “the living water that Jesus promised will rise in the hearts of those who believe in him… It is the deepestvoice of our heart that coincides with the voice of the Spirit within us that cries out Abba, Father.”
God looks to those who worship in spirit and in truth. To have access, however to this deepest part of our hearts may have surprising results. When faced with it, we all too easily become rebellious, closed or resistant when God draws near to open our deeper selves so as to free them from all forms of self-centeredness or inner resistance. Gioia would have us venture to the root of our inner struggle with prayer, have us look at what may be difficult to face in our prayer life. For him, to plumb the depths of our hearts takes a lot of nerve. As he puts it:
“The tragedy is that our heart is at odds with ourselves too, it blames us too; as John says in his letter: our heart condemns us.” (1 Jn 3:20)
This means that trying to penetrate our heart, trying to get in touch with the deepest part of our soul, with our spirit, can be rather unappealing. It is like going back into a prison, a gloomy space closed and bolted in which we have shut ourselves, prisoners of a voice that accuses and blames us. We are locked in our hearts exactly as were the trembling disciples, who stayed huddled behind closed doors before the resurrection of Jesus: ‘the doors of the place where they had met were locked for fear of the Jewish leaders.’ (Jn 20:19) Fear was the key that locked their door, the same fear that keeps us hidden today behind our inner walls.”
Gioia goes on to point out how religiosity is of no help when we find ourselves behind these inner walls and it only makes them thicker. “There is a certain familiarity with Scripture, with prayers, in short, with religion, that can make us impervious to the action of the Lord.” While reading the scriptures it does not take us long to realize that, while his first disciples surrounded him and walked with him day after day, they had an awful time comprehending what he was trying to bring home to them.
The Scribes and Pharisees often quoted scripture to him but completely missed the good news he was trying to share with them. His disciples “could live side by side with Jesus and yet remain fearful and of little faith.” At such times we may begin to believe that God is powerless, distant or has abandoned us.
Strangely enough it is exactly at such times as these that we learn to truly become men of prayer. Faced with our utter poverty and inadequacy, our faith opens the door to God’s own generous gift of the Spirit. Through a humble and simple trust in the living God, who knows our weakness and inner struggle far better than we do, our spirit becomes united with God’s own. It is then that our spirit becomes one with the Holy Spirit who prays within us with sighs too deep for words.