February 12, 2011

Prayer and Living in the Presence of Christ


Benedict Groeschel, in I am with You Always (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2010) tells the story of a young Russian atheist named Andre Borisovich Bloom who set out to prove the Christian faith false by reading the Gospel of Mark.  Instead, as he came into the first chapters of the Gospel, he noticed a spiritual presence in the room with him.  He connected that intensely personal presence with the Risen Christ to whom the Gospel bore witness.  This mysterious and spiritual presence, far from condemning him, invited him to live by love, awaited him with love.  He knew that the whole meaning of his life was to be found in remaining in that presence, and it was chiefly to this task that he dedicated the rest of his life.  He took the name Anthony at his baptism and later, after being made Archbishop in the Orthodox Church, he wrote about this experience and his life of prayer in Beginning to Pray, the book that inspired this present web log.

I came across Beginning to Pray as a youth at a summer camp.  His reflections validated my own experience of prayer and encouraged me to go deeper and be more disciplined.  He especially helped me to see that the Scriptures not only gave an account of what Jesus said and did in history, they also shed light on his risen presence in our lives right here and now in faith's mystery.  When we look at prayer this way, it dispels the myth (a myth of satanic origins) that God is some sort of oppressive force bent on preventing us from thriving.  Instead, this mysterious presence of Christ makes living by love a beautiful possibility for our lives.

The experience of Christ in prayer is not emotional or sentimentalalthough feelings of devotion and tears of compunction help us cling to Him with greater resolve and determination.  His presence is not conceptual or an intellectual idea, although holy thoughts and profound insights often bind us to him with greater intensity, and at the same time, lead to a peaceful inner freedom.   The presence of the Lord is deeper than the powers of our imagination and even intuition: it is a presence at the very core of our own being and existence - more present to us than we are to ourselves.  

St. Augustine describes Him as the Light, the Life and the Love through whom we live and move and have our being.   His presence makes possible a life of love.  This being the case, the presence of the Lord in prayer is above all performative, a life of love I must live out not only for his sake, but even for my own sake, if I am to be true to my deepest self.  This means, if we are not to betray the Lord or ourselves or abandon the One who awaits us with love, we must act on what we know the desires of Christ to be.  Through prayer and study over the Sacred Scriptures, through holy conversations and faithfulness to our life commitments, through persevering in love through all kinds of trials and sacrifices, through the sacraments: in all these experiences, the Lord constantly speaks to our hearts, helping us to see what we must do in the present moment, helping us to see how we are to live by love.

Anthony Bloom focused the importance of living out the Will of God Christ's presence in our lives makes known.  His life is a testimony to this effort.  In particular, he understood the words of the Holy Bible to be addressed to us personally, sometimes so directly that they can make our heart burn within us:  "These words tell us what we already know from our experience of life, and those are absolute commandments.  Those words we must never forget.  Whenever we fail to do so, we break our relationship with Christ, we turn away, we refuse the burden, the yoke of his discipleship."  Meditations, A Spiritual Journey (Denville, N.J: Dimension Books, 1971) 18.