+PRAYER IN OUR DAILY LIVES Chapter Talk Oct. 29th, 2017
Closely related to the last conferences I presented here in Chapter I would like to share a few reflections on the meaning of prayer in our lives. Praying the Psalms all day long is part of a larger reality that permeates the whole of our lives as monks. We have recently been reading from the gospel of Luke and of all the Gospels, that of Luke puts the strongest emphasis on prayer both in the life of Jesus and his disciples. Ronald Rolheiser in his book on Prayer, Our Deepest Longing, points out:
“Luke gives us glimpses of Jesus praying in virtually every kind of situation: Jesus prays when he is joy-filled, he prays when he is in agony, he prays with others around him, and he prays when he is alone at night, withdrawn from all human contact. He prays high on a mountain, on a sacred place, and he prays on the level plane, where ordinary life happens. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus prays a lot.
And the lesson isn’t lost on his disciples. They sense that Jesus’s real depth and power are drawn from his prayer. They know that what makes him so special, so unlike any other religious figure, is that he is linked at some deep place to a power outside of this world. And they want this for themselves. That’s why they approach Jesus and ask him: ‘Lord, teach us to pray!’”
Our own life is to be one of continual prayer, especially when confronted with our own and others’ weaknesses. More and more I have become aware of how we are being drawn into a living awareness that without him, without our Lord Jesus living in and through us, we can do nothing. He tells us as much in the in chapter 15 of John’s Gospel. And isn’t this the whole meaning of humility so central to the Rule of St Benedict.
This past Friday, in our Gospel from Luke, we heard of how important it is to know how to interpret the present time. Rolheiser, in his book on prayer, says:
“We live in a world that is for the most part spiritually tone-deaf, where all the goods are in the store window, digitized, or reduced to a flat screen. An so, prayer is a struggle. So are a lot of others things. When the surface is all there is, it is hard to be enchanted by anything, to see depth, to be deeply touched by poetry, faith, and love. But these are what we long for: depth, poetry, faith, love.”
As monks we are freed from many of the influences that would make us tone-deaf, the constant exposure to a commercialized world but we too, are influenced by the world of commerce. We are exposed to it often through the products we sell and the maintenance of a monastery like ours. The danger in our society, Rolheiser tells us, is that “most of us do not see our restless longing as pushing us toward the infinite. We have trivialized and tamed our longing. Instead of longing for the transcendent, we anesthetize and distract ourselves by focusing our desires on the ‘good life,’ on sex, on money, on success, and on whatever else we think everybody has.”
Real prayer takes us into another kind of space. Often we would like our prayer “to be interesting, warm, bringing spiritual insight, and giving the sense that we are actually praying. Classical writers in spirituality assure us that, though this is often true during our early prayer lives when we are in the honeymoon stage of our spiritual growth, it becomes less and less true the deeper we advance in prayer and spirituality. But that doesn’t mean we are regressing in prayer, It often means the opposite.”
To advance in prayer is to come into the presence of a God who is more than ever surrounded by mystery, a presence that neither our heads nor our hearts can begin to fully comprehend. To advance in prayer is to allow ourselves to enter ever more fully into the realm of faith, to find ourselves before a loving presence that encompasses not only the whole of our lives, the whole of our world but the whole of the ever expanding universe we live in. What can make this even more overwhelming at times, is to realize that our faith is pure gift, nothing we can claim to be deserving of or claim as our own accomplishment.
One of the things I learned in a program I entered into some years ago for the formation of spiritual directors, was that often in helping others to pray you find that their understanding of God is inadequate. Our prayer is naturally affected in a profound way by how we conceive of the God to whom we pray. I would like to end this talk by sharing a dream Ronald Rolheiser had that spoke to him deeply of this very matter. He Writes:
“I don’t often remember my dreams, nor do I put much stock in them, but, several years ago, I had a dream that caused me to do both. It highlights the most important of all truths: that God is love and that only by letting that kind of love into our lives can we save ourselves from disappointments, shame and sadness. It went something like this:
For whatever reason, and dreams don’t give you a reason, I was asked to go to an airport and pick up Jesus, who was arriving on a flight. I was understandably nervous and frightened. A bevy of apprehensions beset me: How would I recognize him? What would he look like? How would he react to me? What would I say to him? Would I like what I saw? More frightening yet, would he like what he saw when he looked at me?
With those feelings surging through me, I stood, as one stands in a dream, at the end of a long corridor nervously surveying the passengers who were walking toward me. How would I recognize Jesus, and would his first glance at me reflect his disappointment?
But this was a good dream and it taught me as much about God as I’d learned in all my years of studying theology. All of my fears were alleviated in a second. What happened was the opposite of all my expectations. Suddenly, walking down the corridor toward me was Jesus, smiling, beaming with delight, coming straight for me, rushing, eager to meet me. Everything about him was stunningly and wonderfully disarming. There was no awkward moment; everything about him erased that. His eyes, his face, and his body embraced me without reserve and without judgment. I knew he saw straight through me, knew all my faults and weaknesses, my lack of substance, and none of it mattered. And for that moment none of it mattered to me either. Jesus was eager to meet me!