By: Deacon Keith Fournier
“He was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished , one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread; and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us; and lead us not into temptation.” (Luke 11: 1-4)
Jesus sets forth the framework for a lifestyle of prayer in this prayer we call the “Our Father”. After this response, he tells the disciples a parable concerning one type of prayer, persevering prayer for needs. (Luke 11:1-13) However, His entire time with the disciples is an instruction in Prayer. He shows them by example the pattern of living in continual communion with the Father. He invites them – and he invites us – into the communion of love which He has with the Father, in the Spirit. That is the heart of prayer.
Through His Incarnation, which includes – His Life, Death, Resurrection and Ascension – he removes the impediment to our entering into that communion. He capacitates us to begin living in that communion right now. We are called to a lifestyle where prayer becomes naturally supernatural; like breathing. After the Resurrection, the Apostle Paul wrote these compelling and challenging words: “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 those 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 struggles beyond what many of us could imagine. They suffered greatly for their faith. 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’s words are vital for those who bear the name Christian today.
Prayer is an ongoing dialogue of intimate communion with God that makes life different. 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 properly. Love is never coerced. Love is freely given and freely received.
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 in His Image by directing our capacity for free choice always toward the good, was impeded through that fall. You can say that our freedom was fractured. The only way it can be healed and restored is through the applying the splint of the Cross and the healing oil of the Holy Spirit.
The “Good News” is that through Jesus Christ, our fractured freedom can be healed. The way has been opened for us to have an even fuller communion with God than our first parents did before the Fall; a communion restored through the Incarnation – the Saving life, Death, Resurrection and Ascension – of Jesus Christ the Savior. In Jesus Christ we are being re-created, re-fashioned and redeemed. The Christian life is an invitation to conversion, to being made new. He comes to live in all who make a place for Him within the center of their lives and their lifestyles. This “making a place” is the essence of Christian prayer.
Prayer is not about doing, but about being, in a continual and growing communion with God. Jesus said, “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14: 21 – 23) The Lord wants us to freely choose to respond His continual invitations to love. By the power of the Holy Spirit at work in every believer, he gives us new eyes to see Him at work, new ears to hear His voice and new hearts within which He can make His home.
We will find our fulfillment as human persons only in communion with the Lord. 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 , 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 his 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 God.”
The Christian revelation answers the existential questions that plague every human heart and trouble every generation. 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 pray, we can experience a progressive, dynamic and intimate relationship with God and He can 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 and 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, darkness is dispelled and the path to progress is illuminated. We begin to understand why this communion seems elusive as we struggle with our own disordered appetites. Without grace we live in a manner at odds with the beauty and order of the creation within which we dwell. Through Grace we 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 moment.
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 this communion with His 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.
Mother Teresa once wrote:
“God is the friend of silence, in that silence he will listen to us; there he will speak to our soul, and there we will hear his voice. The fruit of silence is faith. The fruit of faith is prayer, the fruit of prayer is love, the fruit of love is service and the fruit of service is silence. In the silence of the heart God speaks. If you face God in prayer and silence, God will speak to you. Then you will know that you are nothing. It is only when you realize your nothingness, your emptiness, that God can fill you with Himself. Silence gives us a new way of looking at everything. We need this silence in order to touch souls. God is the friend of silence. His language is silence. ‘Be still and know that I am God’.”
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.”
We will live the way we love and we will love the way we pray.
Fr Nouwen continued: “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.”
We are His contemporary disciples. We need to ask Him the same question this day, “Lord, Teach us to Pray”. Then, filled with His very Divine Life within us, we need to “become prayer” by learning to “make our home in God” and let Him make His home in us.