Prayer and Praying: February 2003 Archives

A Prayer "Experiment"

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I read about "prayer experiments" in Richard Foster's book on Simplicity. And I thought to myself, just recently, why don't we act on this. Below is a brief sharing of some of the results. It took a while for me to decide to share this, and again it is personal, so if such details bother you, please don't read further.

Even though St. John of the Cross admonishes us not to seek and cling to consolations, he also tells us that such consolations are offered to beginners as encouragement along the way. And so I share this consolation, praising His Holy Name. Last week, perhaps Monday, maybe Tuesday, I was suffering some minor back pain, although, as with all back pain, it seemed anything other than minor. It was the kind of pain that probably could have been eased by taking an ibuprofen or an aspirin. My wife had been suffering with our beautiful sonís behavior. I decided to engage in a prayer experiment. I offered this minor pain for her suffering. Amazingly, not only was that day better for her, but many after.

Last Wednesday, I engaged in a first Wednesday fast for her. I failed at the complete fast, finally having to eat dinner because food was totally occupying my mind. Even so, God rewarded the attempt. When my wife got home from work she was upset about something and came into the house in quite a mood. I was able to absorb the mood without any hurt, and thus was able to help her. (My normal response would have been to lash out in return.) Our little sacrifices, tiny though they are really work to the good of the entire world around us. If our vocation is marriage and family, the good starts there and ripples outward.

I have determined to offer at least a daylight fast every Wednesday for the intentions of my own family and all the families out there. God honors even the smallest baby steps made in His direction.

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St. John of the Cross

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St. John of the Cross

I have no profound and beautiful insights. I can share with you nothing of wisdom or kindness. And being in such a dragged out state (for whatever reason), it is perhaps better to let St. John of the Cross speak my mind.

from The Ascent of Mount Carmel--Book 1, Chapter 6 St. John of the Cross

4. Wherefore, if the soul rejects and denies that which it can receive through the senses, we can quite well say that it remains, as it were, in darkness and empty; since, as appears from what has been said, no light can enter it, in the course of nature, by any other means of illumination than those aforementioned. For, although it is true that the soul cannot help hearing and seeing and smelling and tasting and touching, this is of no greater import, nor, if the soul denies and rejects the object, is it hindered more than if it saw it not, heard it not, etc. Just so a man who desires to shut his eyes will remain in darkness, like the blind man who has not the faculty of sight. And to this purpose David says these words: Pauper sum ego, et in laboribus a indenture mea. Which signifies: I am poor and in labours from my youth. He calls himself poor, although it is clear that he was rich, because his will was not set upon riches, and thus it was as though he were really poor. But if he had not been really poor and had not been so in his will, he would not have been truly poor, for his soul, as far as its desire was concerned, would have been rich and replete. For that reason we call this detachment night to the soul, for we are not treating here of the lack of things, since this implies no detachment on the part of the soul if it has a desire for them; but we are treating of the detachment from them of the taste and desire, for it is this that leaves the soul free and void of them, although it may have them; for it is not the things of this world that either occupy the soul or cause it harm, since they enter it not, but rather the will and desire for them, for it is these that dwell within it.

These seem very difficult words indeed. And yet, I do not think they are as hard as we make them. John's way is a way of denial to obtain all. We do not latch onto the smaller pleasures of the senses and appetites, but we release them, deny them, and in so doing move forward to the greater pleasure of walking more closely with God, and then to the ultimate pleasure of union with God.

Now, of what does this denial consist? I do not think that it means that you do not see or hear things, but rather that you exercise a strict custody of what you do see and hear. A thing once seen cannot be unseen, a thing once heard cannot be unheard. Denial is first, denial of entry, and second, denail of a place in our heart. There are some things we should just forego. We know it and sometimes choose to indulge in those things anyhow. Other things are good a meritorious to have seen and heard, but they are not meritorious to linger over and to practice to the point of distraction from God. It is good to have seen the Leonides, it is not so good to spend six or seven hours a day recreating the Leonides in our own minds.

So denial is both about keeping some sensation out and about letting those things that do enter leave no trace upon us. Denial is, in some small part, an exercise of will. But as with all such exercises, they are ineffective without the participation of Divine Grace. (If the Lord does not build the house, then in vain do the builders labor). So we may start by exercising a kind of custody, but we must do this for the right reason--love of God. If we are practicing these things for our own sakes, then we are becoming attached to the very notion of denial. Detachment seems quite a tricky business until we realize that though it is entirely necessary, it is merely a means, not an end in itself. All is Grace and all is gift--if we lean upon the Lord, He will find a way.

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from The Ascent of Mount Carmel--Book 1, Chapter 6 St. John of the Cross

IN order that what we have said may be the more clearly and fully understood, it will be well to set down here and state how these desires are the cause of two serious evils in the soul: the one is that they deprive it of the Spirit of God, and the other is that the soul wherein they dwell is wearied, tormented, darkened, defiled and weakened, according to that which is said in Jeremias, Chapter II: Duo mala fecit Populus meus: dereliquerunt fontem aquoe vivoe, et foderunt sibi cisternas, dissipatas, quoe continere non valent aquas. Which signifies: They have forsaken Me, Who am the fountain of living water, and they have hewed them out broken cisterns, that can hold no water.[117] Those two evils -- namely, the privative and the positive -- may be caused by any disordered act of the desire.

We seperate ourselves to God alone, or we struggle always against the crushing weight of desire and ownership. There is no middle way. God really, really likes the Frank Sinatra song, "All or nothing at All." I often hear Him say, "Half a love never appealed to me."

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Prayer and Praying category from February 2003.

Prayer and Praying: January 2003 is the previous archive.

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