Monday, July 4, 2022

How does prayer really look like? Are we praying only when things are looking better in the world and for us as well?

This isn’t an original blog reflection on prayer by any means.  I’ve written on this several times in my blog’s existence, and I was thinking hard about what my next entry should be focused on.  Then I came across one of Fr Rolheiser’s blog entries and he entered it on what real prayer looks like.  His main point in the reflection was really about the situations that we are in when we utter God’s name when we don’t know how to deal with what life is presenting to us.  

In his essay, Fr Rolheiser detailed how a Jacques Loew, the founder of the Worker-Priest movement in France, was once working in a factory and saw how his fellow workers were hauling very heaving bags into a truck.  In this situation he sometimes saw how one of the bags would suddenly drop from the hands of the men, and as the bag landed on the ground would burst open and have all its contents spill out, creating a mess.  This was when a mini-blaspheme would escape from the lips of the men.  This made Loew point out that though what was heard was not something that was glorifying God as taught in the Lord’s Prayer, he felt that the men who uttered those phrases was saying a prayer as he was invoking God’s name in real honesty.  I was partly flabbergasted when I read this, and it stayed in my mind as I went through the day after that.  It takes a spiritual man of some depth to have discovered this.

When we were trained on prayer by our catechists, it didn’t include how we ought to be praying when things in life were not so calm and attractive to us.  We were mainly taught that when things were smooth going ons in the world and in our lives, that we ought to be raising our voices to God with great thanksgiving for the blessings we have been receiving.  This isn’t something hard to teach.  It is the imparting of gratitude for the goodness that God has blessed us with, and it is only right.

But what if the opposite is what faces us in life?  What if the news at night is bad news, and in an order that is one after another?  Or what if what happens to us in life isn’t what would consider as calm, goodness and comfort?  What if we accidentally stub our fingers as we make our way around the home or the office, or get stuck in a terrible traffic situation which leaves us late for our appointment?  At these moments, what comes out from our mouths could be described as a mini-blasphemy and even aesthetically offensive, no matter if the person who hears us is a senior convent nun who had been finally professed for several years.  Certainly it is not our aim to take God’s name in vain, but on several levels, just hearing what we uttered could constitute as a sinful act.

But Fr Rolheiser said that many of us take prayer far too seriously for our own sakes.  If we take what is happening to the world around us too seriously, we can lose heart and stop praying.  Fr Rolheiser then said what only a most astute praying person is able to say when he said that prayer is most important and most powerful precisely when we feel it is most hopeless, and when we feel that we are most helpless.

This is what being genuine is all about.  If you think about it, it is not often that when we turn on the news at night, all that is reported is primarily about the goodness and charity that is shared and experienced in many parts of this world.  And aren’t we all supposed to be channels through which God’s love and goodness can flow to the whole world?

It could be that we are filling our hearts and minds only with one aspect of God’s power - the power of health, wealth, politics and economics.  For us, God is only good when we have hope.  While it isn’t wrong, it is a far too narrow way to look at God’s power of his Divine love.  So if the news is good, we have hope.  But if we don’t have hope, why then do we pray?

When we pray though the world looks negative, we are emphasising the strength and the promise of God.  There are worse things that can happen to us than when things fall all over the floor when the bags drop on the floor.  The bags could also drop on our feet and injure out toes too.  When those things happen to us, things coming out of our mouths could be much morse than mini-expletives.

Let’s be honest - there will be moments in our lives when things aren’t looking good for us or for the world.  It is then that prayer is not only necessary, but utterly important.  Sometimes we do feel helpless, but prayer at these times show a real honest that is inside of us.  Prayer in tough times is a reminder to always seek God’s presence and power in life.

I felt very drawn to this reflection from Fr Rolheiser because I noticed that it was primarily in moments of prayer and adoration that I was more fully in touch with God’s presence in my life.  It has been slightly over a year since my accident while exercising and I have not attained that state of being fully recovered and restored to good health, and I am constantly seeking evidence that things are back on an even keel for me.  But that moment and those ideal conditions have still not been given to me, and I find it often that I am raising my eyes toward heaven and ask God the perennial question “why me?”  With Fr Rolheiser’s reflection, this prayer now changes to a more sensible “what is it, Lord, that you want of me in this situation that you have allowed me to undergo in life?”

It is a very real prayer and it comes from the depths of my heart.  I am not, and should not be, waiting for things to become fine and dandy before my prayer becomes real, heartfelt and relevant.

Of course, I do know that there are many friends and parishioners who have been praying or me to get better and recover fully after my trial, and to be restored back to parish life and ministry in work.  Your prayers mean so much to me, and have done me a whole lot of good.  Please know that thanksgiving rises from my heart to God whenever I think of the many who are still praying avidly for me.  I will be praying for God to bless you in your lives.

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