February 04, 2005

On Prayer--Fluency Comes With Practice

Prayer, as with any foreign language, is built such that fluency comes with practice. Foreign language? you ask. And I say--without a doubt. It is secretly our native tongue, the communication of the deepest part of us to the God who loves us, but when it comes to conscious application--it is completely foreign. Sometimes I think of prayer like my grandmother's recipes. My grandmother made the greatest food around, but if you asked her for a recipe, you were out of luck. She couldn't tell you for anything--in fact, if you asked, she might not even be able to make the thing you asked because you threw up a mental block. But it would eventually go away as she got into her kitchen and fussed around for a while making other things.

Prayer is at once our native tongue that we know so well we cannot tell anyone about it, and it is the hardest exercise in the world when we set our minds to it.

The Rosary is a practice of prayer that leads to a certain fluency, and in some cases a certain glibness or slickness. Some people fire off those Aves with such rapidity that I can hardly wrap my mouth around the first two syllables and they're already done. In church I hear people fire off responses to the Mass as though they were engaged in some sort of race--how much more quickly can I finish before everyone else around me. The practice of prayer, in whatever form you take it, should not lead to greater speed, but if anything, to greater slowness. Prayer is an activity, kind of like bacci in which deliberation and intent and purpose pays off. Not slowness for the sake of slowness, but deliberation for the sake of knowing to whom you speak and about what. Prayer is the ne plus ultra of stopping to smell the roses, because the Rose you are smelling is the archetype of all roses and of all creation.

The practice of prayer leads to fluency in prayer, which leads to deliberation and a focused intent, which leads to contemplation, which, God willing raises the person eventually through God's direct interaction to Divine Union.

But as we saw yesterday, proper prayer requires making a choice. "Choose life or choose death." It requires that we give it our full attention and a good deal of our time. It requires that we be purposeful in our pursuit of it. It requires our complete cooperation with the power of the Holy Spirit, who teaches us how to pray. It requires most of all that we pay attention. Prayer is giving and receiving. But it too often becomes a monologue as we fill the airwaves with our intent. Recall that the command Eli gave to Samuel was not "Listen Lord, your servant is speaking," but to say, "Speak Lord, your servant is listening." And so this flawed teacher of prayer speaks to us through time and directs us to the proper attitude of prayer--speak Lord, your servant is listening.

And just as it takes a while for your ear to become accustomed to the rhythm of a foreign language so that about halfway through that film in French or German, you're suddenly catching a sense of the language and the subtitles become less essential--so it is with prayer. When we start with a will to listen, God will inform our listening so that we will actually hear. It starts slowly and it feels like sifting air, but eventually we will begin to hear through some unknown faculty, precisely what God has for us to hear. And our obedience to this secret hearing is the next step in the fluency of prayer because the act of prayer always is translated to the prayer of action--working God's will in the world in all humility.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:30 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

February 03, 2005

Approaching Lent--Deciding What We Want

I trouble you once again with insights from Sr. Ruth Burrows.

from Ascent to Love
Sr. Ruth Burrows

We have one dynamism of choice. That dynamism must be controlled, concentrated, otherwise it ceases to be dynamic and is like a worn out battery driving nothing. If we do not know what we really want, if we vacillate, allowing ourselves to be drawn hither and thither, we become enfeebled and our faculty of choice is weakened. We must decide what we really want and concentrate on that. 'The soul whose will is torn between trifles is like water which n ever rises because it is running through an outlet down below.'

Taking a lesson from Aquinas--God is uniate, simple. There is no part of Him that is not integrated with all other parts (in as much as He can be said to have "parts"). This is a very hard lesson. We know the truth of the shema Y'israel--"Know O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is One." We know this. But the doctrine of the trinity sometimes clouds our understanding no matter how clearly we state it. Nevertheless, we know it to be true--God is triUNE--three person in union--simple. God is one. Uniate. Simple.

Why make such a big deal about it? Well, if God is uniate, simple, one, then nothing that is not God can be part of Him. That is, until our complete purification either here or in purgatory, we cannot join the God who is One. There can be no union of like with unlike. There is no mystical marriage and the fullness of the beatific vision is impossible. God is One and immovable, we are duple (at least) and duplicitous and must become simple and one to move toward the One.

This is what Sr. Ruth is emphasizing here. Our desire must be one, our heart must be one, our minds must be one, our intent must be one, our actions must be one. We cannot look now at God and now at some created good. Our choice must be singly and wholeheartedly one.

Now, there is not a little fear in this choice. What will happen to my family if my whole attention is devoted to God, to my career, to my life, to my leisure? What will happen to me?

What ideally SHOULD happen if one makes this choice is that "me" drops out of the picture and our joy and delight ever increases in serving God. It is in selflessness that we find the truest definition of self. If all of our being is aligned in wanting the One thing that matters, then we will not be troubled by the old car in the driveway or by wanting filet and eating chicken. We will not be disturbed by the same currents that scatter the rest of the school. We will begin to see eternity and what is present will pass away in RELATIVE importance. That does not mean our family passes out of our mind, but rather in the selflessness we practice we more completely serve our families and those around us. Union with the One does not mean the abandonment of life on Earth, but complete joy in that life and complete service to His ends in it.

The reality is very simple--we can continue to live a life in tension--in a kind of dynamic opposition of created good and Creator. Or we can "Choose Life" as we are commanded:

Deuteronomy 30:19-20

"I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice, and cleaving to him; for that means life to you and length of days, that you may dwell in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them."

"Cleave to Him." the ancient language used to describe the relationship of marriage where "the two become one." In fact, throughout the Bible we are called to this surrender of marriage, this abandonment of self and immersion in the self as defined by God's vision of us. Cleaving to God is a vision of divine union that promises "length of days." Not length of life, but the "length", if you will, of eternity.

So today and all the days I chance to think about it and particularly through this season of Lent, I must make a constant choice to "Choose life" so that I might begin to live rather than to walk through life. We have but one chance to get it right, but within that chance so many opportunities. "This is the day the Lord has made, let us be glad and rejoice in Him!"

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:56 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 02, 2005

God's Mysterious Ways

A source of endless delight and perplexity to me is the way God works through what we say.

This brought me up short again as I was perusing TSO's Spanning the Globe. While it is always delightful to be mentioned (a good reason for avoiding the reading of that particular post) I was stunned to find an excerpt from a piece written here recently.

Stunned because the piece was an attempt, a not very clear or good one I thought, to articulate a truth I have felt in my bones for a long time and which is just beginning to make a kind of sense to me. But there I see a piece of it.

My point here is that we do not know which of our words will strike people and convict them. Our most carefully planned and deliberately calculated arguments may have no sway at all. All of our clever words and our verbal tricks get trotted out and no one pays any attention. But those words of perplexity, of struggle, of attempting to articulate the truth as we see it--those words are authentic in a way we cannot recognize and they will ring true to others. So, we are all in the position of Moses told to speak to Pharoah--we do not have the words. And yet if we speak the words we are given in truth and obedience, we may find hearts moved unexpectedly. I know I was surprised and delighted that somehow something escaped from what I thought a complete muddle.

God works in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform. You do not know through what or to whom God will speak to in your writing.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 01:06 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Notes on a Key

Go to Notes on a Key and help to keep Tom true to his word and rigorous in his discipline.

Tom has promised to deliver some reflections on the magnificent A Key to the Doctrine of the Eucharist by Abbot Vonier. Available now from Zaccheus Press. Buy a copy and support this worthy endeavor--a company that is set to rival Sophia Press for the quality of books produced. (You can also purchase the book through the Ignatius Press Catalog, but I'm sure the person who runs the press would love to get orders directly!)

And while you're there check out Our Lady and the Church by Hugo Rahner. We need to do all we can to support the worthy endeavors of those preserving the treasures of Catholic Literature and teaching. (Also look at the upcoming books--I'm particularly excited about Dom Marmion's, Christ, The Life of the Soul)

Posted by Steven Riddle at 09:58 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Blogging and Presumption

I don't know what drives most people to blog. To make any statement about the matter is simply presumption on my part, in both the positive and negative meanings of that word. It is also presumption for me to think that I have anything new to tell anyone. Ecclesiastes said it thousands of years ago, "There is nothing new under the sun." True.

And yet I blog. As I stated above, I cannot speak for other bloggers nor for their feelings about the form of communication--only for myself.

And when I get to thinking this way, I also begin to think about giving up blogging. (That's not a threat, simply a reality.) At that point I remind myself of why I blog, or why I don't really blog.

True blogging is all about linking and commentary--showing people what you are interested in on the web and commenting on it. Now, it has subsequently developed a great many facets and variations--as many variations as there are people.

My blog is more like an open journal. I write here about the things that concern me most. I try to explain them to myself in a way that makes them new and comprehensible to me. If this is a service to others, I am grateful to God for the inspiration. If not, I am grateful to God for this chance to extend prayer into the blogworld. Because in a very real sense for me, writing is prayer. Writing is the way that I make sense of the world and bypass the interior censor.

So, blogging is presumption. Yes, I thought (note past tense) once again about quitting, but once again I find that there is sufficient reason to blog in what I learn as I write. There is sufficient reason in whatever little praise God may receive through these writings. There is sufficient reason in that while I blog, I do think (most of the time) about God and I do engage in extended prayer. Admittedly, it is merely vocal prayer. But as St. Teresa of Avila noted, vocal prayer devoutly and completely engaged in can lead to or become contemplative prayer. If so, pray for me that it might become so. Then this blog, presumptuous as it is, would have a great purpose for at least one soul.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:56 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

February 01, 2005

Urgent Prayers for the Holy Father Needed

Be with him Lord in sickness, and let Him know your closeness.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 06:35 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Beginning Abandonment

The beginning of the Ignatian Exercises focuses on the fact that despite how you may feel about yourself God loves you here and now--as you are. You don't need to change a thing to be loved. If you are to receive the fruits of that love, things will need to change.

One of the hardest truths of Christianity is that God loves you as you are. The intellectual truth is not difficult--over and over again in the Bible we are told that God loves us. It is almost the breath of scripture--the enduring, abiding, eternal love of God for His wayward chldren. But it is very difficult for that head truth to trickle down to the heart. Few of us feel loved even if we know that it is true. More importantly, few of us feel lovable (and for those who do, they are often insufferable).

The beginning of abandoment lies in understanding the depth of God's love for us. You cannot abandon or surrender yourself to a disinterested party--that way lies disaster. But how do we begin to internalize the reality of God's love for us?

First, we pay attention. To one who is paying the least attention, every moment of every day is a revelation of God's love--in the beauty of the Earth, in the people who surround us, in the things that happen to us. If we trace over the incidents of our lives to our present day, we will see His hand gently guiding us to the present circumstance. Sometimes, that circumstance does not appear to be of the best--it may seem that God's love fails. But is it His Love, or our acceptance of that love? Is it His love or our choices that too often fail?

The beginning of surrender is to know that we are not lovable, and yet, nevertheless, we are loved. This central truth of Christianity must become part of us indelibly before we can become whole. The beginning of surrender is to look at the One who loves you and to acknowledge that you are loved.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:05 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack