Archive for the ‘Prayer’ Category

To Pray in Spirit and in Truth

August 12, 2022

To pray in spirit and in truth enables us to enter into contact with that infinite love, that inscrutable freedom. 

Thomas Merton

The church I attended for years sponsored a youth camp in the hills of southern Ohio every summer. The theme was JOY—Jesus, Others, You.

All the writers of the New Testament agreed, but James was most clear, that first you need to be in communion with God, then you needed to exhibit that faith through how you treat others. Then, of course, you have to take care of you.

We need daily—some of us several times daily—to reconnect with that source of love, energy, direction we call God.

One of my Biblical mentors is Daniel. Not for the visions at the end of the book about him. No, what impressed me was that he took time from his busy days administering the greatest empires known at the time to reconnect with God—three times a day. Regularly. With intention.

He remained focused until the end of his days as far as we know.

It works also for us. To come with intention to pray in spirit and in truth. Set aside time and place and prepare to meet with God.

Chipping Away At The Block That Binds Us

June 22, 2022

The carpenter takes a block of wood. She chips away at it until she uncovers the shape that he needs for the project.

The anonymous author of the 14th century work The Cloud of Unknowing in another work commenting on the 12th century monk St. Denis, takes this illustration from Denis applying it to us.

We travel through life accumulating ideas, thoughts, emotions, scars. These accumulate and harden like that block of wood.

We have all met probably far too many people who are stuck in this hardened state of the spirit. This seems also to lead to physical manifestations of hardening.

We need not be condemned to be stuck in this block for the rest of our lives. We devote ourselves to meditation, study, prayer, service to others. God, seeing our right attitude, will assist us with our task of chipping away those hardened detritus of life to uncover the whole person that was there all the time.

We become free.

Teach Us To Pray

April 6, 2022

The disciples who followed Jesus around noticed that he often went away by himself to pray. They wondered, probably like I’ve always wondered, what did he say? How did he say it? Or was it listening in contemplation?

So, they asked him. Must be nice to go right to the source. (This is the way the story is told by Luke. Matthew records it as part of the Sermon on the Mount.)

And he gave them an example prayer—some call it the Lord’s Prayer and others call it the Our Father.

When you pray, this is what you can say.

This is a good template for certain kinds of our prayers. Jesus continues in Luke’s recording to teach on persistence. That is, don’t just sit and pray these words once. Make it a daily practice.

Are you like me? This prayer touches on essential things. Of course, when we pray, we most likely need to add personal examples.

But Jesus went off for hours. Surely he didn’t pray the Our Father continually for hours? I have sat often and prayed the Jesus Prayer for almost 30 minutes at a time (Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.) But for hours?

One thing I do know—more people seem to want to talk about prayer than will actually practice prayer.

If you ask me about how to pray when we’re alone, I’ll lead you into how to sit, stand or lie; breathe; focus; relax; listen. Don’t be like when Janis Joplin sang Kris Kristofferson’s words, “Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz? My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends…”

Avoid Praying Against Anyone

October 6, 2021

Strive to avoid praying against anyone in your prayer so that you do not destroy what you have been building up by making your prayer a defilement.

Evagrius, 4th Century Teacher

I had to pause at this chapter and consider. I don’t think of myself as one who bears grudges and puts myself against others. Oh, yes, there are many with whom I disagree theologically and politically. And, yes, I’ve been wronged many times. But I don’t dwell on these and pray for their destruction.

I think of poor Jonah, who took his God-given message of destruction to the people of Nineveh with great joy for their demise. Then they repented and God told Jonah, good job, they have come to me. And Jonah was bitterly disappointed.

Have I ever sat in prayer and wished bad to come to someone? Have I ever paused for a quick prayer of condemnation toward another human, another of God’s children? If so, I stand condemned.

We pray that we may more closely be with God and that others also will be and for their healing. Take a blessing from this teaching today.

A Person In Chains

October 4, 2021

Sometimes we sit or kneel or lay in prayer and we cannot settle down.

Evagrius wrote 1800 years ago, “A man in chains cannot run. Nor can the mind that is enslaved to passion see the place of spiritual prayer. It is dragged along and tossed by these passion-filled thoughts and cannot stand firm and tranquil.”

Ancient language, but he captured our problem.

We want to be at peace with God. Have an honest conversation. Talk to someone who listens, and listen to God’s advice and wisdom.

But so often we are chained to thoughts churning up from the gut. Angers, fears, feelings of being slighted, or being left out, worry, these all lead us astray. They must be dealt with through focus in God.

Today we teach breathing and have apps on our smart phones to calm the mind. All to the good.

When we were teens, sometimes we became attached to a peer group that led us into doing things we knew were wrong. Evagrius and other writers of his age would say “chained to” the group.

We had to find a way to leave the group and find a new one going the right way.

So, with our thoughts and passions. We must fill our minds with wisdom and knowledge and seek the spirit in quiet. We must break the chains of attachment. With me, this is not theoretical knowledge. It is life.

Imperturbable Calm

September 28, 2021

My internal clock awakens me at approximately 5:30 am no matter what time zone I’m in. Fly to Germany? Next morning, no problem, rise at 5:30 Central European time.

This morning? 6 am. The one morning when I had an early conference call with Germany. Then two announcements of new corporate strategies and products. And pick up my phone at 6:10 to three messages from soccer referees with issues who needed to drop games (and me to find replacements). And things to read. Things to write.

The last thing I read last night before bed served me well. Evagrius Chapter 52 on prayer.

The state of prayer can be aptly described as a habitual state of imperturbable calm.

By “prayer”, he doesn’t not mean when you repeat the Lord’s Prayer/Our Father. Or when you present your list of supplications.

It comes in that quiet time with only you and God fully present.

And after years of that practice, your personality, your life, they change.

And I could breathe. Refocus. And tackle my day one thing at a time.

It doesn’t mean that here at 2 pm I’m not tired. But tired is OK. But not frazzled. Not discouraged. I did what I could. Contributed in the conference call. Learned some new information about information technology. Contacted people. Hopefully encouraged a few.

I am not imperturbable. But like the surface of a pond when a stone is thrown in I have some ripples that gradually lose themselves at the edges and the pond is still once more.

Pray for Justice and the Kingdom

September 23, 2021

An instruction from Evagrius:

In your prayer seek only after justice and the kingdom of God, that is to say, after virtue and true spiritual knowledge. Then all else will be given to you besides.

Evagrius

Need we say anymore? Let us always remember justice and do justice in all our thoughts and actions.

Seeking spiritual knowledge goes without further mention. It should be why we have our daily practices.

A Cask Full of Holes

September 13, 2021

The man who stores up injuries and resentments yet fancies that he prays might as well draw water from a well and pour it into a cask that is full of holes. –Evagrius

That moment before you click “post” on Facebook or “tweet” on Twitter or “send” in your email app, that moment between reactive thought and public unveiling, that moment when you could have paused and inhaled deeply–what stored up injury or resentment is releasing its venom upon your friends, acquaintances, strangers who now think differently about you?

That moment when you sit to pray and your anger and hate spill over. Then, what is the condition of your heart? Is it that of the penitent of whom Jesus taught to settle things with the other person before approaching the Temple?

In that moment can be the pause where we realize the problem is not them but what is within ourselves. And how we can now lay aside those burdens and stand naked before God asking for grace.

It is that which TS Eliot wrote, “…at the still point, there the dance is…and there is only the dance.”

Food For the Soul

August 23, 2021

The ancient Desert Father Evagrius called contemplative knowledge food for the soul.

There was a time when contemplation was thought to be reserved for those who had a vocation for it–monks, nuns, recluses, strange people.

Perhaps “ordinary people” just had to work too hard to have time for contemplation. Although I’m not sure that’s the case.

We believe today anyone can be a contemplative. Unfortunately, this general attitude did not evolve from a Christian perspective, although Thomas Merton had an impact. Much of it is “New Age” which is Westernized Hindu and Buddhist meditation. Something where we can sell gurus, incense, candles, pillows, icons. It’s all a business.

As a youth, I actually never heard of Christian contemplation until I “accidentally” discovered St. John of the Cross at the library. What I had heard about was the Beatnik adoption of Zen Buddhist meditation (and espresso with cinnamon sprinkled on it). It fit my personality, this contemplation thing.

It can fit yours. 10-20 minutes daily physically changes your brain. It changes your personality. I was helped for many years in formation by repeating the Jesus Prayer–Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me. After a time you can shorten, then shorten more, until you just sit in the presence of God.

And if you listen, there will be times when God whispers in your consciousness. This should not be ignored. It is a direction for you to go or instructions on whom to meet or a nudge for awareness of what is to come.

It is truly food for the soul.

Prayer

March 25, 2021

People have realized for probably as long as there have been people something about prayer.

Prayer is a lifestyle.

Just this morning, I’ve read from the oldest book of the Hebrew Bible, something from the European Middle Ages, something from the 1800s, and something contemporary. All realized the reality of prayer, not as some time and some place where you repeat words.

Brother Lawrence talked about cultivating the practice of the presence of God.

Job’s friends tore their clothes and sat with him for seven days, not in words but in practice, to pray with him for the disaster that had overtaken him.

Habits become just the way you live over time. The Russian peasant, the hero of The Way of a Pilgrim, determined to live the life the Apostle Paul advised when he had taught us to “pray without ceasing.” He was exploring just how one could make prayer an intimate part of life. And remarkable experiences came his way.

There are times to pray with intention for outcome. Times to pray aloud especially for the comfort and encouragement of others.

But mostly, let your life be your prayer.