March 16, 2014

Faith Simplifies Prayer

Faith simplifies us, in the way we live, and even in our prayer.   During Lent, elaborate meditations involving our imagination, composition of place and attending to the movements of our hearts can all be helpful.  One should use these as long as one draws good fruit.  It can also be helpful to remember the beautiful ways that the Lord has visited us in the past whether in something that happened in prayer or in something that happened as a result of it - as long as we do so to thank Him and not out of some nostalgic impulse to live in the past.

We should, however, be aware of doctrine of teachers like Saint John of the Cross: the more we exercise our love and faith in prayer, the simpler our exercises become.  If we try to hold onto methods because we want to reproduce an experience, we have introduced a complexity into our prayer that can be an obstacle to the new things the Lord yearns to do in our lives.  So we surrender our prayer to what the Lord wants and we allow Him to draw us, even when sometimes He leads us into an unfamiliar darkness, the kind of prayer we do not understand and that does not seem to offer the same consolation we were once accustomed to.

This truth about prayer is echoed in the way we should live our Christian life - out of devotion to Christ and out of an effort to imitate Him in everything.  Since Christ lived to do the will of the Father, we should examine what we own and how we live.  If there is in our lives something (like a possession, a relationship or a habit) not purely for the glory of God, then we should renounce it.  Otherwise, clutching after things that have little to do with the Lord, our hands are not free to welcome Him and receive his gifts.  Here too possessions that were fine to acquire and own at one point in our journey of faith may now be an obstacle to the glory of God unfolding in our hearts - so we must give it to someone who needs it, or else sell it and give the money to those in need.

God who is Love is simple and when His presence is welcomed, He simplifies the soul, and the simpler our souls the more room there is for His love.  What we own visibly and how we conduct ourselves in this world below should mirror this invisible, spiritual reality from above.  Divine simplicity should inform human life, here and now.  This way, as we receive the love of God, we receive it not only in our good intentions and vague hopes, but also in the nitty gritty of the present moment, the complex challenges of the concrete circumstances of our life.

This kind of true devotion is a spiritual gift from above that can only be welcomed in grateful simplicity in the ambiguities and difficulties of this life.  It is sought and accepted only after arduous efforts at renunciation and perseverance.  At the same time, such devotion is not a personal accomplishment or the outcome of our own discipline in spiritual exercises.  Prayer is not reducible to hoped for outcomes.  Prayer is in the logic of a gift, a friendship, a love, and before the mystery of love, the more simply we open our hands in trust, the more the Lord can give.