Monday, May 3, 2021

Where prayer and married love should imitate each other.

 I hear it often that many people struggle with contemplative or silent prayer.  And it’s not surprising.  Although it is a very rich tradition in the Catholic church, it isn’t often promoted or openly taught, partly because there are few who are well versed in the field to speak fluently about silence.  That in itself is an oxymoron if ever there was one.


But just because it is rarely addressed doesn’t mean that it has lost its value.  It hasn’t.  In fact, the mystics abide by it, and for the most part, anyone who commits to a daily Holy Hour in life is going to practice it.  He or she may not ever become proficient in it, but will definitely be a practitioner of it for life.  I don’t think anyone really becomes a proficient contemplative pray-er, mainly because the focus of it is love, and no one really can say that he or she is a perfect lover of God.  It is always an act-in-process.


One of the most common fears or complaints that come from novice, or even long-term practitioners of contemplative prayer is that there will be moments or periods of dryness.  And the fear is that the pray-er is doing it wrong.  Well, there can be different things that one going into contemplative prayer that can be doing to contribute to one not praying well.  Maybe it’s the time of day chosen, or the temperature of the room, or choosing to do it after a very full meal, etc.  These are what I would call the practical things that can be changed and do not in themselves constitute a ‘problem’ per se.


But if all of those are not the problem, and it is just that the person contemplating is just uncomfortable with the apparent ‘nothingness’ or some may say ‘dryness’ of prayer?  I dislike very much the term dryness of prayer, because it could give the impression that good prayer is wet or moist (as opposed to being dry).  


What they refer to more accurately is that their prayer is without its consolations and that there are no ‘feelings’ or ‘sensations of delight’, when entering into contemplative prayer. To this lament, I would say that they should welcome this apparent state of boredom for two reasons.  Firstly, because many spiritual giants like St Theresa of Avila and St (Mother) Theresa of Calcutta had experienced them and wrote about this struggle in their prayer life, and secondly, because it is in these moments or periods that God is giving you the opportunity to purify your love for him.


Why do I say this?  Because it is when there is nothing sensational and spectacular about loving that give us the opportunity to reveal to us just how serious we are in our efforts at love.  Marriage is a very accurate and useful analog here.


Those who are in marriage relationships reading this reflection are likely to understand this more than those who are still single, although I am sure that there will be some single people who understand this as well.


In any marriage that has gone past the initial honeymoon period of flowers and fancy feelings, the relationship will inevitably come to a stage where there will be a period where there are hardly any of those romantic feelings and sentiments normally associated with the honeymoon stage of the marriage.  This is when the daily routine of running the family home and hearth can seem monotonous, and when picking up laundry left carelessly on the floor is no longer something deemed ‘cute’.  One has no feelings welling up within to want to whisper those ‘sweet nothings’ to one’s spouse, or as an elderly priest once said at a wedding Mass, that what was once a dimple is now seen as a pimple.


It is in times like these that loving actions done are done with a pure effort to love.  One knows that one isn’t getting anything in return for love given, but still puts in the work of loving in these moments.  And this is what constitutes true love, which is the willing of the good of the other, for the sake of the other.  As St John of the Cross said, where there is no love, put in love and there you will find love.


We need to bring this truth into our contemplative prayer life as well.  The dynamics are the same, even though the situation is different.  The prayer time is silent and seemingly pointless.  There are no lights, insights, and certainly no palpable consolation.  Yet, when we put in the effort to show up and give the Lord our best of our time and attention, it is really love that we are putting in.  Our prayer time in these silent and nothing moments are our display of pure love for God, because we are not getting back anything for ourselves.  If we are constantly getting consolations at prayer, we may in fact be praying not for God’s sake, but for a constant fix of our consolations which have actually come to replace God.  We could well be there as some form of spiritual self-pleasure.  I could use a stronger term here, but this blog is read by the young and impressionable.  I hope.


So, if you find yourself in that stage in life where there are no consolations, no prolonged periods of discernable delights in the soul, and no insights that delight when you are practicing contemplative prayer, despair not.  God is doing something there in the nothingness, and giving you opportunity to purify your love for him. 


And if you are in a marriage that seems loveless and without feelings of loving sentiments and emotions, way past the honeymoon period and find the relationship dreary, this is good reason to put effort into loving without getting anything in return.  Not because you are masochistic but because you are mirroring the kind of love that Jesus gave from his cross on Calvary where everything was given but nothing gained in return.  However, it was precisely this that was deemed as the purest love that saved you, me, and the world.





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