We all need to pray. This is something that just about every Catholic knows in the very fibre of his/her being. One only need sit in the confessional for a short time as a confessor, and one will inevitably hear the lament that a penitent had not ‘said’ his/her prayers, or prayed ‘enough’. It does feature with great frequency as things that are oft mentioned in encountering God’s grace of forgiveness.
Why do we pray? For a whole host of reasons. We pray because prayer allows us to forge, foster and develop our relationship with God and with each other. We pray because we know that all that we have is gift, and prayer helps us to be grateful people for things that we could never deserve. We also pray because it was something that Jesus taught his disciples, and through them, taught us as well. We also need to pray because prayer centres us and helps us to conform to God’s will and design for us. This list is in no way an exhaustive one, but generally, these are very good and sound reasons that we ought to dedicate some time to prayer each day.
Yet, despite knowing how important it is for us pray, many of us struggle and find it so difficult. Rushing through prayers is something some of us have a propensity to do, perhaps so that we can ‘get it done over with’ and carry on with other ‘more important’ things on our daily agenda. Some of us are also known to have a procrastinating attitude towards prayer, and leave prayer to the last moment of our day, before turning off the lights and switching off our minds. When this becomes a daily routine, prayer becomes a bit like giving the last remaining scraps that we have on our plate to the dog who waits at the table with eager and hopeful longing. We don’t really care what is left, as long as the dog gets something and is satisfied with what we have given it. One of the more telling signs that one’s approach toward prayer is suffering is when one admits to not ‘saying’ one’s prayers. When the verb ‘say’ is used, it tends to reduce deep heart-felt communication with God to the mumbling, recitation, incantation or regurgitation of a set of words and phrases.
At the heart of true prayer is the desire to lift our consciousness to God and to let that part of our being which God holds dearest to become enjoined to him. Doing this well entails a humbling that we don’t particularly like as ego-driven human beings who are often making ourselves the centre of the universe. It requires of us to consciously set aside our agenda, our goals, our fears, our angers, our disappointments and our sadness so that we will not be weighed down with these matters when soaring to God in prayerful communion. Having said this, we must not forget that there is an important part in prayer called intercession, where we bring to God the many forms of ‘lack’ which we find in our lives and in the world, and in the lives of those we love. Unfortunately, too many of us make that the only part of our prayer, and in so doing, have made God into a divine wish-granter.
When Jesus placed a child before his disciples and said that they needed to welcome a child in his name, there was more than meets the eye. There’s indeed something special about a child and the way that he or she communicates with his or her parent. There’s trust, innocence, openness, availability and in many cases, there isn’t even much that needs to be said to the parent. The child can be very contented just staying the embrace of the loving parent. But once our innocence dies away (and it can happen so quickly) the ‘child’ can easily become calculative, manipulative, scheming, plotting, combative, ill-intentioned, conniving and even disingenuous. Those negative qualities were never in Jesus’ mind when he brought the child into his divine embrace.
At the depth of contemplative prayer is communication, which is non-verbal and intuitive. After all the supplication, praise and thanksgiving is done, one has to give oneself the time to ease into the loving presence that requires of us a silent presence and indeed, presence to presence, where we try to get back to that ‘child’ mode which allows us to want the divine embrace of God.
The mystics will be quick to concur with the statement that God doesn’t need to say very much to love us. The problem may be that one our part, we can’t seem to stop talking.