August 28, 2012

Clinging to Unfathomable Mystery

Sometimes silent prayer is very purifying.  Whether in the intimacy of our bedroom or in the vulnerable solitude of the wilderness or in a candlelit oratory before the Eucharistic Presence of the Risen Lord, we struggle to attend, to cling to Him for whom we long.   Sometimes it is only by persevering in firm discipline for many years that the humble wisdom of contemplative prayer begins to be born in our hearts.

There is hope.  His mercy exceeds our misery in all its distraction.  Long after the efforts of our own cleverness are spent and our gluttony for satisfying experiences is dissipated, there is still a hungry silence under which the whole might of our soul bends in adoration, even if this is at our last life's breath.   Our own words and ideas and plans and laundry lists and agendas are not inexhaustible.  If we spend enough time in silent reflection and resist the temptation to torment ourselves with what could have been or should have been, we become aware of our own silent thirst for God.

This is not to say that silent prayer is learned by wasting time without devotion.  When there is no devotion in our heart, we should stop praying and engage in the good works the Lord has entrusted to us.  Then, as devotion returns, we can return to prayer.  In the beginning or in the midst of a hectic time of life, regularly observed but shorter periods are advised.  Eventually, the Lord invites us to spend longer periods of silence with Him -- but even though there is devotion in our hearts during prayer, prayer can still be difficult and sometimes must endure great trials.

Our devotion to the Lord in prayer might need to persevere through some discouragement but if we are determined to rely on Him, we give Him the space He needs to bless our efforts.  Our propensity to entertain ourselves is finite.  He formed us in such a way that no mere fantasy, no elaborate myth, not even carefully calculated narratives can meet the profound demands of our humanity.  Deep inside our spirits know that trying to cling to any of this is never sufficient, never enough, never worthwhile.  We are fashioned to grow in our awareness that we need something beyond what merely created psychological powers can produce.

The heart is made to rest in God.   To pray is a movement away from self-occupation and self-reliance, and into relationship with the only One who can reveal to us the truth about ourselves. When we come to delight in Him who is so other than us, when we come to see that our own existence is meant to reveal His love, this is the beginning of praise.

St. Augustine said that man is made to praise the Living God and that we cannot rest until we rest in Him. What a paradox we are to ourselves--made in the image and likeness of One who is so different from us and yet became one of us!   To desire Him, to seek Him, to encounter Him, to acknowledge Him, to cling to Him; this is the quest, the challenge, the battle, the defining moment of our humanity.  But how can we cling to Him who is unfathomable mystery?  The Word of God illumines this mystery for those who allow their hearts to thirst for Him, "His right hand holds me fast."  (Psalm 63:8)