Prayer and Praying: June 2004 Archives

The Psalms of Revenge

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Contra T.S.O.'s sly probe into my psyche I am not succumbing to ecumenicalism (actually I probably succumbed years ago) but rather to a penchant for reading books about spirituality based on the Bible written by persons named Wilfrid. And so, the next offering in this Wilfridfest (or is it the first--I know it isn't the first by this Wilfrid--oh well, give it a rest.)

from Nourished by the Word: Reading the Bible Contemplatively
Wilfrid Stinissen, O.Carm

When we let the "I" of the Psalms be widened to a universal "I," to the "I" of all human beings, we'll be less shocked over the psalms of revenge. When we learn to put ourselves in the situation of others, and also in the situation of those who are tortured and humiliated in their human worth, and when we talk to God on their behalf, it is not so strange that we protest vehemently. There is in every person a sound feeling for justice, an insight about the need to punish evil ones who have destroyed order in order that order be restored. The teachings about purgatory and hell are the Christian confirmation of this inherent insight, and show that the protest against injustice and opppression exists within God himself.

If I prayed for revenge for the violence and injustice to which I personally have been exposed, my prayer perhaps would not be entirely blameless. Jesus teaches us that we should not hit back when someone hits us. But he has not forbidden us to defend fellow human beings who have experienced violence; on the contrary, he wants us to be prepared to give our life for theirs. Since the "I" in the Pslams is not only mine personally but humanity's both my prayer and my prayer for retribution are acts of love: I protest against the evil to which my brother or sister have been subjected and desire that justice will be done. . . .

The universal range of the Psalms makes it also an ecumenical prayer book. No person can remain unmoved by it. In fact, it is used in all Christian denominations, and Christendom had it in common with Israel. Nothing points so plainly and so concretely to our Old Testament roots and our ties with our elder brothers and sisters from Israel than just this, that we pray to God with the same words. All Christians form, together with the Jews, one great choir whose common song in and of itself is, whether one is aware of it or not, a prayer for unity.

I can't comment on the accuracy of this passage, but it certainly "feels" right with respect to the tenor of these difficult psalms. Perhaps a new approach in praying them.

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Liturgy of the Hours

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Want to pray the liturgy but lack the money for the books or time to get them.

Everyone probably knows about Universalis. But I found one that is one step better in some ways:

Liturgy of the Hours Apostolate which daily offers screen-readable or printable booklets for all the hours of the day.

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An interesting thought to ponder. I wonder, is it for Carmelites only?

from Prayer Life in Carmel
Fr. Redemptus Valabek, O. Carm.

[quoting Michael of Bologna, O. Carm]

"Whatever you are about to offer, my brother, certainly remember to commend it to Mary; just as every sentence contains a noun and a verb, so every prayer of ours should include Christ the active verb and Mary the noun, just as She became the Mother of the very Word."

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Meditation and Its End

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from Prayer Life in Carmel
Fr. Redemptus Valabek, O. Carm

Rumination on the words of God in the medieval sense, translating them into concrete action, is the final goal of meditation. The author warns that meditation of the Word without its observance will not save a man. "It is not enough to read the Scriptures and commandments of the Lord; the fruit of (resultant) action must be manifested." A mechanical type of meditation that may even commend to memory the whole of the Bible, does not justify a man. Authentic prayer must be animated by operative charity; mediation with no concrete results to show for it is worth nothing.

What might be the fruits of meditation--the concrete results that are so essential to its foundation? I do not think we need to consider this in terms necessarily of "action" as we might consider it, but in terms of "actions" as St. Thérèse might do so. A smile at someone you don't particularly care for, a helping hand where it might be easier not to lend assistance, a kind word, or a private word of warning where something is not going as it should. All of these things can be the fruit that should come from meditation. If meditation is more than memorization and an exercise of the imaginative faculties, it will always result in the desire, perhaps even the need, to do good for others.

You cannot dig very deeply into the word of God before it starts digging into you. It removes years of built up protections and exposes the heart for renewal. And a heart renewed is a heart rejoicing in the freedom to love in substantial ways. All prayer is about loving the Lord and entering into conversation with Him. One sign of the substantial effects of prayer is that one begins to engage in conversation with Christ in other people--people who show no signs whatsoever of knowing Christ reveal Him to those who are immersed in His word.

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from The Art of Praying
Fr. Romano Guardini

The basic meaning of the word recollected is "to be unified, gathered together." A glance at our life will show how much we lack this aptitude. We should have a fixed center which, like the hub of a wheel, governs our movements and from wich all our actions go out and to which they return; a standard also, or a code by which we distinguish the important from the unimportant, the end from the means, and which puts actions and experience into their proper order; something stable, unaffected by change and yet capable of development, which makes it clear to us who we are and how matters stand with us. We lack this; we, the men of today lack it more than did those who lived in earlier ages.

This becomes evident in our attempts to pray. Spiritual teachers speak of distraction as that state in which man lacks poise and unity, that state in which thoughts flit from object to object, in which feellings are vague and unfocused and the will ineffective. Man in this state is not really a person who speaks or who can be spoken to, but merely an uncoordinated bundle of thoughts, feelings, and sensations. Recollectedness means that he who prays gathers himself together, directs his attention to what he is doing, draws in all thought--a painstaking task--so as to dedicate himself to prayer as a unified whole. This is the state in which he may, when the call comes to him, answer in the words of Moses, "Here I am."

And I might also add, in the words of Isaiah ("Here I am, Lord, send me"), and the words of Samuel--"Speak Lord, your servant is listening."

The point of this passage was driven home to me by some of the goings-on over at that most excellent of blogs, Disputations. Tom has posted some really fine reflections on prayer over the past couple of days. I hope that the series has not ceased. However, he has also posted some really well-considered thoughts on the morality and licitness of torture. As you might well imagine, almost no one has commented on any of the statements regarding prayer. The statements regarding torture have more commenters than can jam themselves into the room. Now, while this subject is important and it is a vital part of our work as Christians to eradicate this evil, certainly it is not more or even equally important to bringing souls, and especially our own souls, to Christ in prayer. This is merely one example of the many things with which we can choose to be distracted or obsessed with in the world.

Naturally no one spends their entire time thinking about prayer, and in fact that too would be a waste of time. Thinking about prayer or even talking about prayer is not praying. But I find it somewhat sad that in a discussion of prayer almost no one has anything to add, but many, many people have something to say about torture. Shouldn't we all have something to say or to add to a discussion about prayer? If we are actually praying, shouldn't it be a matter that occupies at least some portion of our consciousness. And yet, to all appearances, it occupies very little. When someone speaks of prayer there is stunned silence as though the wisdom of the ages has dropped full force into the middle of a traffic circle. It is the wisdom of the ages, but it is the ordinary and natural wisdom of the ages--a wisdom we should be comfortable around and that we should enjoy engaging and discussing.

I don't read too much into this. After all, blogs are a form of entertainment. But I think even our actions on blogs reveal something about where our thoughts and our relative values lie. Too often prayer is not one of them. Admittedly, some apsects of prayer are difficult to engage or to comment on. One doesn't want to leave the enormously vapid "Well said," with every post on prayer. But it would seem that if a couple of posts on torture can illicit nearly a hundred comments, prayer, which should be a chief concern for all of us could garner more than six.

We are distracted, torn apart, and divided. This distraction in our lives leads to distraction in prayer. We can live our lives with a focus on Jesus Christ and still pay attention to things of the world. I think this is part of why Disputations is so sucessful a blog. And the discussion on torture is, in fact, a very fine consideration of the moral, ethical, and religious aspects of the question. But prayer still should be at the center. I can do nothing about torture except (1)express outrage--either through blogging, protesting, or writing letters, or (2) praying. Of these two, I tend to view the latter as perhaps the stronger component in the solution to the problem. My outrage is a thing of the moment--here and gone. But when I carry the subject with me into prayer, it enters eternity, where God may take my concern and make something solid of it.

The distractions in prayer come from the disjointedness of life. There seem to be more distractions today because there is a greater amount of information flowing in constantly. We cannot be focused on any issue for more than a few minutes at a time IF we allow ourselves to react to all of that information.

I suppose from this I wonder if recollectedness and prayer itself might not be somewhat easier if we allowed less of the world to iintrude into our thoughts. I don't know the answer to that; however, my suspicion is that a life focused on God starts off more recollected than one that is split five-hundred ways. Prayer may be somewhat easier if we gave less of ourselves to the crises of the world and more to loving and serving our Lord.

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from The Art of Praying
Romano Guardini

Man likes to think of himself as active, striving, and creative. In this he is only partly right. He would in fact be even more right if he thought of himself as a restless being, incapable of standing still or of concentrating; as one who uses up people, things, thoughts, and words without, however, finding fulfillment; as a being who has lost the link with the center and who, with all his knowledge and abilities, is a victim of chance. This restless being wants to pray. Can he do it? Only if he steps out of the stream of restlessness and composes himself.

How close does this come to describing much of your prayer life? I don't mind saying that it is very close to my own. I sit down to pray, start to lay the groundwork, and five million incidental things flood in upon me and threaten to overwhelm me. Which bills are paid? What color should I paint the living room? Where should I go on vacation? Is Aunt Bechtilde really going to come and how will I deal with it? What am I going to do this weekend?

That's the downside. The upside is that all of these are legitimate concerns and as they flit through the mind, they can be offered up to God. We need not worry about all the things that try to drag us away from God, let them have their moment on the stage and then, let go of them. God has heard them, knows they're a concern, and He honors the sharing that starts with this preliminary movement toward prayer. This proximate preparation puts us in a good place to listen to God. Don't listen to the fear, concern, and busyness of the mind. Instead, learn to allow that busyness to occur without repression and learn to let it pass away gently. Always gently guide your thoughts back to God.

This is one of the reasons that St. Teresa of Avila recommends taking a book to prayer--preferably The Book, or more appropriately The Library. With a sacred text at hand we have an anchor, a place to return to, a way to come back to focus once again on God.

Some have recommended the techniques of centering prayer, and I suppose if they work for one, these can be every bit as effective. But whatever the technique, the end must be the same--recollectedness before God, preparation to love and adore Him and to Listen. Prayer is a time of conversation. As good conversants we should learn to be more entertained by active listening than by the sound of our own thoughts and concerns. (Not a bad idea in real life either--get those unruly thoughts under control and be truly present to the people with whom you are conversing.) Recollection--bringing ourselves together before we embark on prayer, letting go of concerns and distractions, and preparing ourselves to the present to the Lord, preparing ourselves to let the Holy Spirit teach, preparing ourselves to be remade in prayer and renewed in life.

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About this Archive

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

Prayer and Praying: May 2004 is the previous archive.

Prayer and Praying: October 2004 is the next archive.

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