I was reminded yesterday by Tom at Disputations that it is never too early to begin thinking about Lent. Since I've been thinking about Lent since the day after Easter last year, I would heartily concur with that opinion. I love Lent. I love the spirit of penitence that never seems like penitence because it is such a calm and peaceful sea in which to swim. So many things to give up and then never notice their absence because the faculties are ordered to paying attention to God. For me, the season is a small miracle each year.
I have not yet decided how I will be celebrating the season this year, however, I picked up a book of essays by Ruth Burrows, who must be one of my favorite spiritual writers of recent time.
from Essence of Prayer
Sr. Ruth Burrows, OCD
Prayer. We take the word for granted but ought we to do so? What does the word mean in the Christian context? Almost always when we talk about prayer we are think of something we do and, from that standpoint, questions, problems, confusion, discouragement, illusions multiply. For me, it is of fundamental importance to correct this view. Our Christian knowledge assures us that prayers is essentially what God does, how God addresses us, looks at us. It is not primarily something we are doing to God, something we are giving to God, but what God is doing for us. And what God is doing for us is giving the divine self in love.
When I think of prayer in the common way, prayer itself becomes a form of work. As a form of work, its interest palls as we see no forward motion, feel no sense of accomplishment. But prayer is not a work, it is a relationship. People of our time tend to regard relationships in this same sense of accomplishment and moving forward--a strange malady of the times. "This relationship is going nowhere." Well, of course it isn't, that isn't the nature of relationships. So too with prayer--it is putting aside time so that God may bestow Himself upon us. It isn't a work, it is a way of being with All Being.
Why do we find this concept so difficult to grasp? I think there is something in the modern mindset that is always seeking to get "something out of" whatever is done. But this is a fundamentally flawed way of approaching God and prayer. We aren't looking to "get something out of God" (or at least, we shouldn't be), but rather to be transformed by His Love for us. Our effort is not entirely our own because it is not possible without grace. Moreover, if we look upon it as an effort, we expect a return. Prayer is a time and a place to be--it is no more effort than sitting on our back porch and looking at the sunset.
And yet, we make it a mountain of method and of style, a pound of words and a recipes of all kinds of things that must be done just so. Because Catholicism is so imbued with structured rite and ritual, we have come to ritualize, rubricize and methodize prayer. For example, we confuse the rhythms of the Rosary, the rhythms of a mother singing to a child, with our own feeble efforts at prayer. The Rosary is spoken by us, but it is prayer precisely because it brings us into His presence to receive the love endlessly revealed in each mystery.
Each prayer we say, each action we take, each motion, each method, all of this is about preparing ourselves for Love. We are such awkward creatures. Surely we do similar things for each other, going out of our way to deceive ourselves and the one we love, to make them think we are lovable. But that is something we do not need with God. We are lovable because He loves us. That is a fundamental truth we need to accept at the start and we have to put behind us all the awkwardness and difficulty of pretending to be something we are not. God knows. He knows already. Every fiber of our being is sustained by His Will at every moment. Do we really think we can hide from Him?
So all this effort at prayer is simply a play at telling ourselves that we are really more determined and better than we are. But we are little more than children dressing up in adult clothing and after a while the entertainment palls.
So what must I do? Attend to payer, be there, ready and waiting to receive love in whatever form it may appear. Spend time with His Word, spend time with Him. Don't allow method to intrude upon Being. Be aware of who He is who who I am not. As Saint Catherine of Siena so wisely tells us, "He is He who is, I am she who is not." We do well to remember that. Our reality is grounded in He who is and without Whom all is not.
There is no method to being. We are. We are because He is and in looking at Him we are looking at being. There may be things we can do that will dispose our minds, hearts, and souls to better receive this reality. However, the end is being. And that is also the beginning.
(interesting side note. I composed much of this in my palm and tried to synch it this morning to my computer. For some reason I couldn't get the blue-tooth connection to work. As a result, I had to retype it from the palm screen. Normally my palm is set to go off after a minute or so of inactivity. But in this case it did not go off during the entire typing episode. It suggests to me that the Holy Spirit, perhaps, really wanted this message to get out there. Or, I'm sure, there are other more mechanical explanations. But I'll go with the first.)