Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Becoming Prayer

Even with only a brief introduction to writings about Matt Talbot,
one can recognize that in sobriety he became not only a man of
prayer but was one who
"prayed without ceasing." In light of the
following reflection we can also recognize that Matt "became prayer."

Are we learning to "become prayer?"

Reflection by Deacon Keith Fournier
CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online)

Through prayer, daily life takes on new meaning. It becomes a classroom
of communion. In that classroom we learn the truth about who we are -
and who we are becoming - in Jesus.

“Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances
give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.
Do not quench the Spirit.”
(1 Thess. 5:16-19)

St. Paul wrote these words to the early Christians in Greece. They did
not live lives of ease, in any sense of the word. They had families,
occupations, and real struggles, beyond what many of us could imagine.
They also suffered greatly for their faith in a hostile culture.

He instructed them to “Pray without ceasing”. Did he really mean it? I
believe that he did. The older I get, the simpler life gets. That does not
mean it is “easy”. I speak of spiritual simplicity, the kind of attitude
which gets right to the root of what really matters. I believe that Paul
meant what he said to the Christians at Thessalonica and that his words
are important to those who bear the name Christian today.We need to pray.

Prayer is an ongoing dialogue of intimate communion with God. God
fashioned men and women as the crown of His creation, creating us
in “His Image”, for this loving, relational conversation of life with Him.
At the heart of understanding what it means to be “in His Image” is to
understand the immense gift of human freedom and what has happened
to our capacity to choose. Love is never coerced.

Our relationship with God was broken, separated and wounded through
the first sin, the sin of origins or “original sin”. That sin, like all sin since,
is at root a misuse of freedom infected by pride and self sufficiency. Our
ability to exercise our freedom rightly, to live His Image by directing our
capacity for free choice always toward the good, was impeded through
the fall. Freedom was fractured.

The “Good News” is that through Jesus Christ, the way has been opened
for an even fuller communion with God, one that is restored through His
Incarnation, Saving life, Death and Resurrection. In Jesus Christ we are
being re-created, re-fashioned and redeemed. He comes to live in all who
make a place for Him within the center of their lives. This “making a place”
is the essence of Christian prayer. It is not about doing, but about being.

The Lord wants us to freely choose to respond to His continual invitations
to love. We will only find our fulfillment as human persons by entering into
that kind of relationship. This is the meaning and purpose of life itself. As
we grow in faith through our participation in the life of grace, lived out in
the Church, our capacity to respond to His loving invitation grows as well,
through prayer.

Prayer is about falling in love with God. Isaac of Ninevah was an early
eighth century monk, Bishop and theologian. For centuries he was mostly
revered in the Eastern Christian Church for his writings on prayer. In the
last century the beauty of his insights on prayer are being embraced once
again by both lungs, East and West, of the Church. He wrote these words
in one of his many treatises on Prayer:

“When the Spirit dwells in a person, from the moment in which that person
has become prayer, he never leaves him. For the Spirit himself never ceases
to pray in him. Whether the person is asleep or awake, prayer never from
then on departs from his soul. Whether he is eating or drinking or sleeping
or whatever else he is doing, even in deepest sleep, the fragrance of prayer
rises without effort in hid heart. Prayer never again deserts him. At every
moment of his life, even when it appears to stop, it is secretly at work in him continuously, one of the Fathers, the bearers of Christ, says that prayer is
the silence of the pure. For their thoughts are divine motions. The movements
of the heart and the intellect that have been purified are the voices full of
sweetness with which such people never cease to sing in secret to the hidden

The Christian revelation answers the existential questions that plague every
human heart and trouble every generation. Through His Incarnation, Saving
Life, Death, and Resurrection, Jesus opens full communion with God for all
men and women. He leads us out of the emptiness and despair that is the
rotted fruit of narcissism, nihilism and materialism. When we enter into the
dialogue of prayer, we can experience a progressive, dynamic and intimate
relationship with God and He transforms us from within. We, as Isaac said,
can “become prayer” as we empty ourselves in order to be filled with Him.

Through prayer, daily life takes on new meaning. It becomes a classroom
of communion. In that classroom we learn the truth about who we are -
and who we are becoming - in Jesus. Through prayer we receive new
glasses through which we see the true landscape of life. Through prayer
darkness is dispelled and the path of progress is illuminated. Through
prayer we begin to understand why this communion seems so elusive at
times; as we struggle with our own disordered appetites, and live in a
manner at odds with the beauty and order of the creation within which
we dwell only to find a new beginning whenever we confess our sin and
return to our first love. Prayer opens us up to Revelation, expands our
capacity to comprehend truth and equips us to change.

Through prayer we are drawn by Love into a deepening relationship with
Jesus whose loving embrace on the hill of Golgotha bridged heaven with
earth; His relationship with His Father is opened now to us; the same Spirit
that raised Him from the dead begins to give us new life as we are converted, transfigured and made new. Through prayer, heavenly wisdom is planted
in the field of our hearts and we experience a deepening communion with
the Trinitarian God. We become, in the words of the Apostle Peter “partakers
of the divine nature.” (2 Peter 1:4) That participation will only be fully complete
when we are with Him in the fullness of His embrace, in Resurrected Bodies in
a New Heaven and a New earth, but it begins now, in the grace of this present

The beloved disciple John became prayer. He writes in the letter he penned
in his later years: “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may
be called the children of God. Yet so we are. The reason the world does not
know us is that it did not know Him. Beloved, we are God's children now; what
we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed
we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope
based on him makes himself pure, as he is pure. Everyone who commits sin
commits lawlessness, for sin is lawlessness” 1John 3:1-4

As we “become prayer” our daily life becomes the field of choice and we are
capacitated to choose the “more excellent way” of love of which the great
Apostle Paul wrote. (1 Cor. 13) Pondering the implications of the exercise
of our human freedom becomes a regular part of our life, as we learn to
“examine our conscience”, repent of our sin and become joyful penitents.
Prayer provides the environment for such recollection as it exposes the
darkness and helps us surrender it to the light of Love, the Living God
dwelling within us.

“Becoming prayer” is possible for all Christians, no matter their state in
life or vocation, because God holds nothing back from those whom He
loves. This relationship of communion is initiated by Him. Our part is to
respond. That response should flow from a heart that beats in surrendered
love, in the process of being freed from the entanglements that weigh us
down. The God who is Love hungers for the communion of sons and
daughters - and we hunger for communion with Him - because He made
us this way. Nothing else will satisfy. The early Church Father Origen
once wrote: “Every spiritual being is, by nature, a temple of God, created
to receive into itself the glory of God.”

We were made in the “image” of God and are now being recreated into
His likeness in Jesus Christ. As we “become prayer’, that likeness begins
to emerge. We give ourselves fully to the One who gave Himself to us and
cry out with Jesus Christ “Abba Father.” No longer alienated, we participate
in the inner life of God who now dwells within us. We also dwell in Him
through His Spirit. This dwelling is prayer. It is not about doing or getting
but about being, becoming, receiving, giving, and loving.

We will live the way we love and we will love the way we pray.
A wonderful spiritual writer of our own time, Henri Nouwen, understood
the intimacy of prayer and the call to live in God. He wrote these words in
his work entitled Lifesigns:

“Jesus, in whom the fullness of God dwells, has become our home by
making his home in us he allows us to make our home in him. By entering
into the intimacy of our innermost self he offers us the opportunity to
enter into his own intimacy with God. By choosing us as his preferred
dwelling place, he invites us to choose him as our preferred dwelling place.
This is the mystery of the incarnation. Here we come to see what discipline
in the spiritual life means. It means a gradual process of coming home to
where we belong and listening there to the voice which desires our attention.
Home is the place where that first love dwells and speaks gently to us.
Prayer is the most concrete way to make our home in God.”

Let us learn to “become prayer.”

Deacon Fournier is writing a series of reflections on daily Catholic
Christian living. Catholic Online will soon be offering these reflections,
"Bread on the Trail: Daily Food for Daily Life" to all those who subscribe
to a free newsletter. "Bread on the Trail: Daily Food for Daily Life"