Prayer and Praying: March 2004 Archives

I have found that there are generally two types of practical books about prayer (here I am not refering to advanced treatises like van Balthasar's theology of prayer). One is an insipid string of clichés;s about "who, what, when, where, how, and why," that fails to stimulate a spirit of prayer and most often fails to provoke anything other than yawns. The other type is a book so thoroughly practical, so dense with helpful advice and with insights that it is virtually impossible to finish because its main effect is to make you abandon the book and start praying--truly an effective work on prayer.

It is into this latter category that I classify Romano Guardini's wonderful The Art of Prayer. It is one of those books that rather than underlining, one would do better to use a black magic marker to delete the one or two sentences per chapter that you wouldn't read again, except that would deprive you of their help when you next came back to it.

This makes it most difficult to choose what to share, what stirkes one, and what might be most helpful. But I will endeavor to share a bit of what the book has given me:

from The Art of Prayer
Romano Guardini

It is a great mystery that man, whose life springs from God, should have such difficulty in communing with Him; that indeed he should experience disinclination to do so and should sieze on any pretext to evade Him. If man merely followed his natural feelings he would soon have no desire to pray. It would, however, be highly dangerous to conclude that this is his proper condition and that he had better accept it, rather than try to change it. . . . Are a sick man's feelings a reliable standrad of truth? Common sense tells us that his feelings may well be unrealiable and he should therefore, guided by superior knowledge--for instance, the judgment of an experienced doctor--establish a regime and persevere in it. In this manner and with time, his feelings may be restored to health. Only then will they be reliable. We are like the sick man; we are sick in our relationship to God and to the world. We cannot therefore make our natural feelings the true standard for our religious attitude, but must follow enlightened opinion in order to put ourselves and our feelings right. The supposed truthfulness which consists in doing what inclination demands is frequently an evasion of truth. In the practice of prayer therefore, we must also endeavor to seek what is right and to do it loyally and, if need be, against our inclinations.

Even those of us inclined to prayer spend much of our time being disinclined. It is grace and the Holy Spirit that lead us "with leashes of love" to the royal throneroom. Prayer is very, very hard to start, and extremely easy to abandon. Satan has used our own natures and allowed them to accumulate the spiritual equivalents of inertia and friction any motion is difficult to begin and requires a constant effort to maintain.

As a result those of us inclined to pray spend a great deal of time reading books about prayer, books about God, books about how to stop reading books about prayer and start doing, and using all manner of clever dodges for avoiding prayer and calling it preparing for prayer.

Or maybe not. Perhaps I'm the only person caught in such a cycle, though from speaking to others, I suspect not.

Routine is helpful. This is why, a while back, I spent some time encouraging the daily practice of the liturgy of the hours. There was a notably dampening response to that suggestion--intimating that it was too difficult, too time consuming, not necessary for sanctity or furthering prayer life. And yet I note that when I am faithful to the Liturgy of the Hours all other prayer flows more easily (not to say spontaneously), and when I break that routine, I shatter the rest of my prayer life as well.

A fixed time and a set place are a good beginning to a constant prayer life. When vocal prayer becomes habit, when its lines and contours are known and well worn, then it can begin to deepen and take root in the soul. St. Teresa of Avila advises us that a well-formed vocal prayer is already a mental prayer.

This is one of the reasons that the Rosary is so effective a mechanism for encouraging the contemplative life. The words of the prayers form a known and set rhythm and it is on this undulating tide that the meditations on the mysteries take place. The words form the backdrop and the prayer can center on the mysteries. So too with the Jesus Prayer or with the Divine Mercy Chaplet. The words are less important that the meditation that goes with them. When this meditation continues for a long enough period than mere images are no longer necessary and we enter into the realm of contemplative prayer. I suspect few of us get there because we will not settle into a routine.

We've been told (incorrectly) that prayer should be spontaneous and not in fixed modes. The devotions the Church used to encourage are less welcome among some modern clerics. And while spontaneous prayer is good and a wonderful way to "practice the presence" it is a serious mistake to abandon or repudiate time-honored methods of prayer.

Good, solid prayer takes root in well-worked soil. And well worked-soil comes about only through constant application and routine. The great old devotions and prayers of the Church are exquisite ground for beginning a prayer life than can lead directly to union with God. In addition, these well traveled routes have been followed by all the great Saints upon whose intercession we can rely for help as we set out to join God.

The Ascent of Mount Carmel to union with God in prayer is not a solitary road. Along it we have the help of the ages--well-worn, comfortable prayers, and clouds of witnesses, legions of Saints who have pledged their lives and their heavens to assisting those of us too weak to stand on our own. The Ascent is always done in a community of prayer and we all can make the Ascent if we set our minds on doing so and rely upon grace and the prayer of the Communion of Saints to make it happen.

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Truth in Prayer

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from The Art of Praying
Romano Guardini

No hard-and-fast rules can be laid down for this; we shall discuss it more fully later. But whatever routine one may adopt, one should carry it out honestly and conscientiously. In matters of prayer we are only too apt to deceive ourselves because, generally speaking, man does not enjoy praying. He easily experiences boredom, embarrassment, unwillingness, or even hostility. Everything else appears to him more attractive and more important. He persuades himself that he has not got the time, that there are other more urgent things to do; but no sooner has he given up prayer than he applies himself to the most trivial tasks. We should stop lying to God. Better to say openly, "I do not wish to pray," than to make such excuses. Better not to resort to specious justifications such as, for instance, tiredness, but to declare, "I do not feel like praying." This may sound less decorous, but at least it is the truth which leaves the way open, whereas self-deception does not.

A word to the wise is enough. Y'all know who you are, so just stop it. :-) And, of course, I'm a big one to be talking. But it is nice to have someone point out to you a few home truths.

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Sorry, I'm on a Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity kick, and if you would get the book from ICS and read it, you'd see why. In the meantime, let me tell you the immediate cause of my enthusiasm:

from He Is My Heaven
Jennifer Moorcraft

"Pray that I might have his passion for God and for souls," asked Elizabeth, "for a Carmelite must be an apostle." The Carmelite prays and strives for the closest possible union with God, not simply for her own holiness and salvation; she is aware that the more she is living in Christ, the more powerful she is in her prayer for others. Just as evil can pollute and corrupt, even more so goodness and holiness can transform.

Oh, how powerful over souls is the apostle who remains always at the Spring of living waters; then he can overflow without his soul ever becoming empty, since he lives in communion with the Infinite!. . .Let us be wholly His, Monsieur l'Abbé, let us be flooded with His divine essence, that He may be the Life of our life, the Soul of our soul, and we may consciously remain night and day under His divine action. (L 124)
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The "Palm" Rosary

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For those of you using a palm, you should run, not walk over to THIS Freeware Palm page to get 'The Virtual Rosary." The original versions were very nice, but what makes this exceptional is that you can choose language--Latin, English, French, German, Spanish, Tagalog, Dutch and a few others--as well as what kinds of verses you want included for meditation and reflection--"Verses of Virtue", "Scriptural Rosary," Scripture, Mudjegorje (sorry, I always mess up that spelling). Anyway, it's free and it's fantastic. The new version includes the luminous mysteries and some verses to be mediation starters. I have found this a tremendously helpful devotional aid and recommend it highly. Now, I just hope the person who did the Stations of the Cross updates it for hi-rez palms.

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I don't know if Tom made this up (I suspect so.) But it is a wonderful distillation of our conversation in fact, I'm going to ask permission to reprint it here so it sticks around in my archives. Thanks Tom.

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The Lord, your God, has chosen you from all the nations on the face of the earth to be a people peculiarly his own. It was because the Lord loved you and because of his fidelity to the oath he had sworn to your fathers, that he brought you out with his strong hand from the place of slavery, and ransomed you from the hand of Pharoah, king of Egypt. Understand then, that the Lord, your God, is God indeed, the faithful God who keeps his merciful convenant to the thousandth generation toward those who love him and keep his commandments. (Deuteronomy 7: 6, 8-9)

From morning prayer and especially dedicated this morning to M.

It is because the Lord loves us that he leads us out of slavery to ourselves if we allow Him to. We are like small children lost among the racks of all the adult coats in a department store, wandering, crying, looking for mommy or daddy. God comes to us and takes us by the hand and leads us out. He finds us in the secret places we hide and He offers to carry us. God loves us with an everlasting love, a love that cannot be denied, but which can be refused. He will not insist, but He will continue to try.

God loves us. He leads us out of every kind of slavery. He opens the doors to our prisons. He embraces us as a loving Father and He waits on us as the Father of the prodigal son. What stops us from turning to Him? Why would we refuse His compassionate love? Pride--sheer stubborn human cussedness that cannot admit we cannot do anything by our own power.

God showers us with graces simply to keep us alive from moment to moment. How much more He would give us if only we would open our hearts and reach out to Him, not in fear of retribution but in heart-felt love. Follow the little way of St. Thérèse and take the elevator to the top--the elevator of His arms.

God loves you, each of you, as though you were an only child. Stop acting like an only child and presuming on that indulgent love. Return to Him with your whole heart. This season, give Him the only gift that matters--yourself.

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On Lectio and Openness

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A great many people "spend time in the word" every day. But much of the time they spend there seems to be spent fending off any meaning of the word that might have an impact on their lives. People fear the demands of the gospel. They often fear the cost of discipleship.

In the first few chapters of The Imitation of Christ Thomas á Kempis warns us of this tendency.

Here for example is an excerpt from Chapter 2:

from The Imitation of Christ Thomas á Kempis

EVERY man naturally desires knowledge; but what good is knowledge without fear of God? Indeed a humble rustic who serves God is better than a proud intellectual who neglects his soul to study the course of the stars. He who knows himself well becomes mean in his own eyes and is not happy when praised by men.

If I knew all things in the world and had not charity, what would it profit me before God Who will judge me by my deeds?

Shun too great a desire for knowledge, for in it there is much fretting and delusion. Intellectuals like to appear learned and to be called wise. Yet there are many things the knowledge of which does little or no good to the soul, and he who concerns himself about other things than those which lead to salvation is very unwise.

Many words do not satisfy the soul; but a good life eases the mind and a clean conscience inspires great trust in God.

The more you know and the better you understand, the more severely will you be judged, unless your life is also the more holy. Do not be proud, therefore, because of your learning or skill. Rather, fear because of the talent given you. If you think you know many things and understand them well enough, realize at the same time that there is much you do not know. Hence, do not affect wisdom, but admit your ignorance. Why prefer yourself to anyone else when many are more learned, more cultured than you?

Many who approach the Bible study it. Study is good and necessary. But if the end result of study is merely that one knows more, it is futile. Study must end in loving more. Study must end in opening oneself to the Word and making oneself vulnerable and useful to God.

This goes for all spiritual reading. If we read only to have read, or if we read in order to understand God, and we do not allow the reading to affect how we live, we have read in vain. There is no purpose in reading merely for more information. We have enough information. People who were illiterate throughout the history of Christianity, those who had no learning whatsoever, had sufficient information. Where we are deficient, universally, is in our willingness to serve the Word, to live the Word as it has been spoken to our hearts.

So, during Lent, spend time in God's word and pray that God enlighten not merely the understanding, but the entire intellect and the will and the heart, that what we read there really changes our lives in fundamental ways. Pray that this season opens us up to the working of the Holy Spirit so that the journey begun here does not end in Easter, but in Eternity, starting here on Earth and moving through all time.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Prayer and Praying category from March 2004.

Prayer and Praying: February 2004 is the previous archive.

Prayer and Praying: April 2004 is the next archive.

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