September 3, 2017
Praying, as a practice of spirituality, means the conscious juxtapositioning of our contintgency and God’s absoluteness. So then, the less chaos there is within or outside of us, the easier prayer will be. But chaos (outside) and passion (inside) are often our natural state. Should we not pray in those times? Of couse not!
Saint Paul says Pray always.Classical understandings of spirituality and prayer divide prayer into four kinds depending on the flavor of the ‘chaos’ .
The most spontaneous kind of prayer happens when things are bad.In uncertainty and insecurity, reacing out to the absoltue as if to a rock or and anchor is pretty much a no-brainer. Certainly, the awareness of an absolute can make the uncertain seem less so. There is some danger, however, that we will begin to think that prayer will automatically make life easier; and the pattern of an easier life is determined by us! Notice that in this case the absoluteness of God has been dispensed with in favor of the absoluteness of our imagined comfort. It is worth noting that classical spirituality favors fasting (the uncomfortable and insecure) as a spur to a more energetic quest for the absolute and a certain ‘toughening’ of our inner selves.
Prayer comes less spontaneously in times of satisfaction and calm. This is how we know that we are more moved by the contingent in our lives than the absolute!However, almsgiving is a ready remedy to this worship of the belly (Saint Paul again) and serves to wake us up to the even greater fulness of the divine.
That awareness leads us to praise, even to contemplation — attention to God just because he’s there. Unless one really wants to pray, this kind of prayer will be rare indeed.This is sad. We all know the sheer joy of a sunrise or a rainbow — of beauty and fullness thrust upon us. Praise and adoration can make this ‘ecstacy’ permanent.
Clearly, we do not pray often enough or self-lessley enough. This produces guilt. Guilt makes prayer doubly hard because we like to think that prayer is a kind of favor we do to God. Actually, the prayer of contrition is doubly rewarding; it takes away our guilty feelings for neglect of prayer and restores us to prayer’s practice once again. That’s why we are urged to learn an Act of Contrition for regular and frequent use.
Intercessory prayer is a sub-species of prayer in time of need. Empathy will make me volunteer this kind of prayer because I know how I would feel in someone else’s shoes. But here, again, the contingent has become the motive and shaper of prayer, rather than being just the circumstance of one who prays always. However, the discipline of prayer for our government leaders, those who have done good to us, those whom we know to be in trouble (The Little Flower prayed for a condemned murderer) has the benefit of being really unselfish and gathers our own contingency into a single embrace with that of others. This qualifies as loving God and neighbor at the same time and in the same act.
There is a last kind of prayer that is hardest of all — prayer in times of dryness: Praying just as a discipline, affirming the reality of the absolute when there are no felt consequences in the contingency of my individual life, praying when I am not even sure that there is an absolute — or when I am sure that there is not. Therese of Lisieux and Teresa of Calcutta have both written on this kind of prayer. It is well in such times to recall the beatitude that is promised to those who hunger and thirst even when the hunger and thirst continue.
Really and truly and blessedly yours,