March 25, 2009

The Annunciation and the Undivided Heart in Prayer

Today we celebrate the Annunciation -- when Gabriel announced to Mary that she was favored to be the Mother of the Messiah. (see http://tiny.cc/mCylH.) This is the moment when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. It is also the finest moment of humanity - a moment when one of us was able to say "yes" to God with an undivided heart.

Permeating the celebration of this occasion is the very nature of Christian prayer's efficacy. So often we pray for things and are disappointed by the results. It seems like our prayers a re not doing anything, like we wasted our time. I suppose cultural thinkers like Hitchens and Dawkins would say, "Why, in fact, you have." Some people even lose their faith because prayers seem to go unanswered, especially when they have come to God with their anxieties for those they love. Why is it that our prayers do not seem efficacious at times?

The efficacy of Christian prayer is based on discovering the will of the Lord through a conversation with Him. In his own mysterious plan there are things that He yearns to give us, only if we ask. One of the problems is that when we pray, we are not usually concerned about what God wants to give. Rather, we are occupied with what we want. This makes for a tough dialogue - especially when what we want and what the Lord wants to give are not the same.

Thus, one sure way to begin to pray more effectively is to consider what God wants. This is revealed in the Scriptures. Jesus expressed profound concern that his followers intimately know the Father and, at the same time, share a deep communion with one another. Mystics like Elisabeth of the Trinity see this as the Lord's supreme desire. For example, in the Gospel of John, the night before He died, Jesus offers his great prayer to the Father, "that they may be one as we are one."

Now, as we come to understand what this means, it has an impact on our prayer - we have a standard to judge whether what we want is really what God wants. As long as our heart is divided, wanting God but also wanting things he does not want for us, the Lord's ability to answer our prayer is impeded. We are not free to ask for the gift He really desires to give, the gift that is greater than what we think we want. What we want is the lesser thing, and as long as we are attached to that we are not free for what is greater. The greatest thing God yearns to give is his very life and love.

Mary seems to have learned this lesson and that is why she is a model of efficacious prayer. The Archeangel who greets her calls her "full of grace." Grace is God's pure gift - a sharing in his very life and love. Mary was full of this life and love when Gabriel spoke to her - and she is even more so now. Because she was filled with this life and love, her heart was undivided. She was free to yearn for what God desired, "Let it be done to me according to your word."