Thursday, 28 May 2015

The Practice of Prayer - One

Some Reflections

A person enters a room. At first they sit, then stand again. Going to the window they look out, then come back and sit again. A sense of uncertain anticipation prevails. They take out a paper with some notes written down. They stand again, walking around as they go over these notes. They look out of the window again, then return and sit down - speaking to themselves as if rehearsing what they will say. 

There is a knock, one's name is called, as the door opens, and the Other enters, embraces the first without words, then they sit down. The prepared notes are set aside as a sense of calm fills the room. There is a peaceful silence for a time, then the Other begins to speak. 

"Go to your room, composed and waiting, 
and when you are called, reply, 'Speak, LORD, 
for your servant is listening.'” (A paraphrase of 1 Samuel 3:9)

Much has been written and said on the subject of contemplative prayer. However, there is an inherent risk of this turning into a "how to" instruction, which could lead one into thinking it is simply a matter of following a formula and you have contemplation. Contemplation is not something you make happen, it is a gift.

Contemplative Prayer is akin to a meeting. Like any meeting, two separate parties must come together. If one is absent, there is no meeting. The one who prays may be open to this meeting, even longing for it to take place, but nothing they do will make it happen. It happens only when The Other comes, revealing His presence, making it possible for an encounter to happen. 

The following are some quotes with reflections taken from Thomas H. Green S.J., from his book, Opening To God. Here is a link to his opening chapter, recorded on the Ignatian website [LINK - Thomas H. Green S.J. ]

There is an infinite chasm between God and man; man, no matter how hard he tries, cannot come to God -- cannot leap across infinity.(2) He cannot even, as the semi-Pelagians maintained, take the first step in coming to God. God must come to man. He alone can leap the infinite gulf between creator and creature; this is what he did in the Incarnation of Jesus and what he does in the life of every pray-er who truly encounters him. T.H.G. SJ

Fr. Green explores the traditional definition of prayer - "Prayer is the lifting of the mind and heart to God." He points out how this definition taught us that:
  1. God is far beyond our ordinary experience; 
  2. prayer entails effort on our part; and 
  3. prayer involves both the mind and the heart -- the understanding and the feelings and will -- of man.
He goes on to show how errors in theology lead to thinking that prayer was a product of one's own efforts. He suggests that a better definition of prayer describes prayer as an OPENING of the mind and heart to God. 

My point is simply that Christian prayer is grounded in a very specific conception of God: a personal God who encounters his creatures in love. To return to the catechism definition, the idea of prayer as a raising of our minds and hearts to God seems to me to over stress our own effort and activity in prayer. For some time, I have been suggesting that a better approach would be to define prayer as an opening of the mind and heart to God. This seems better because the idea of opening stresses receptivity, responsiveness to another. To open to another is to act, but it is to act in such a way that the other remains the dominant partner. T.H.G. SJ

Being open implies LISTENING. Learning to pray is learning the art of listening.

Hearing or listening is a good metaphor for prayer. The good pray-er is above all a good listener. Prayer is dialogue; it is a personal encounter in love. When we communicate with someone we care about, we speak and we listen. But even our speaking is responsive: What we say depends upon what the other person has said to us. Otherwise we don't have real dialogue, but rather two monologues running along side by side. I believe that our remarks have carried us a good way toward understanding what prayer is. T.H.G. SJ

Learning to listen implies the need to understand the language the other is speaking. How does God speak to us? Who will teach us the divine language? Only God can. But we can learn much by sharing in the experience of others who have been people of this way of prayer.

To the beginner, there is still a puzzle and a mystery in listening to God. (To the proficient pray-er it is no longer a puzzle, but it will always be a mystery.) Since we never encounter God in the same way we encounter another human being, how do we know when God talks? How do we interpret what he "says" when he does not speak as men speak? How can I respond meaningfully to someone whose coming is always veiled in the mystery of faith? In short, how do I know I am not just talking to myself when I pray? The central purpose of this book is to help to answer these questions -- not in a way that will eliminate the mystery of faith, but in a way that will encourage the beginner to begin and to continue to discover God speaking in his or her own life. T.H.G. SJ

God is not hindered in the choice of ways to speak to us. Perhaps the most common language God uses is the language of the heart. Our hearts are moved and insights arise in our thoughts as he speaks to us. As we progress in this practice of prayer, we see a pattern in these movements and the insights we gain form a coherent grasp of the message. In Ignatian prayer, this is the discernment of prayer. This dialogue, unfolding in our heart and mind, inspiring our response is Prayer. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Featured Videos

Featured Videos.