Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The Pope Taught Me to Pray

I've never been quite comfortable that I really understood prayer, or perhaps it would be better to say that I've always been at least vaguely aware that I didn't understand prayer. Prayer obviously has many aspects and different traditions emphasize different facets, but none of them have seemed to quite fit with me.

Something about prayer of petition always seems off to me. I mean obviously the Biblical support to ask for what we need is there, but I can't help feeling that prayer is often used like some magic incantation to achieve a desired result. And I'm not even talking just about the recent "name it and claim it" trend. I'm thinking of the kind of church meeting where you make a bunch a plans and then someone says that you need a group of people praying for the effort so that it will be successful. Does it really work like that?

On the other end of the spectrum, you have prayer as mysticism. Now this has always appealed to me in a certain way. I am, like it or not, a child of my age and so the "spiritual" feel of mystical prayer has something going for it. But the problem I have with this type of prayer is that it hasn't seemed to me to have any particular connection with Jesus' teaching.

Well, today I got some help with this problem from Pope Benedict XVI. No, I wasn't granted an audience with His Holiness. Rather, I've been reading his book, Jesus of Nazareth. This morning I began the chapter on the Lord's Prayer. In about three pages, he explained something about what prayer is that had never quite clicked with me before.

Listen to this:
The more the depths of our souls are directed toward God, the better we will be able to pray. The more prayer is the foundation that upholds our entire existence, the more we will become men of peace. The more we can bear pain, the more we will be able to understand others and open ourselves to them. This orientation pervasively shaping our whole consciousness, this silent presence of God at the heart of our thinking, our meditating and our being, is what we mean by "prayer without ceasing." This is ultimately what we mean by love of God, which is at the same time the condition and the driving force behind love of neighbor.

This is what prayer really is--being in silent inner communion with God. It requires nourishment, and that is why we need articulated prayer in words, images or thoughts. The more God is present in us, the more we will really be able to be present to him when we utter the words of our prayers. But the converse is also true: Praying actualizes and deepens our communion of being with God.

I don't need to pray for God to support and nourish my marriage in order for God to support and nourish my marriage. I don't need to pray for God to come to the aid of my neighbor in order for God to come to the aid of my neighbor. And so on. But, if I want these things and I don't bring them before God, then I am not welcoming God into those parts of my life. And if I do bring these things before God, I am deepening my communion with God in these aspects of my life.

This perspective also makes sense of the more mystical forms of prayer. Seeking union with God, then, isn't about just attaining the experience or escaping from material life, but rather is a means of connecting God to our lives.

I don't think there's anything here that I hadn't heard before, but today it fit together and made sense to me in a way that it hadn't before. I don't think I had previously seen how all these things are connected.

1 comment:

Mata H said...

This is really wonderful...and very helpful. Thank you!!