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“Because the Word that God speaks to us is always an incarnate word – a word spelled out to us not alphabetically, in syllables, but enigmatically, in events, even in the books we read and the movies we see – the chances are we will never get it just right.

We are so used to hearing what we want to hear and remaining deaf to what it would be well for us to hear that it is hard to break the habit. But if we keep our hearts and minds open as well as our ears, if we listen with patience and hope, if we remember at all deeply and honestly, then I think we come to recognize, beyond all doubt, that, however faintly we may hear [God], he is indeed speaking to us, and that, however little we may understand of it, his word to each of us is both recoverable and precious beyond telling.

In that sense autobiography becomes a way of praying, and a book like this, if it matters at all, matters mostly as a call to prayer.”

– Originally published in Now and Then

Here is a simple truth: prayer works.  And it works always (in all ways).  I make a statement like that because in my three decades of being a ‘novice’ pray-er, combined with what I am learning daily about prayer is this:

  • Either prayer works on me changing me and my responses; or
  • Prayer works in me transforming my heart and my perspective; or
  • Prayer works through the events and circumstances for which I am praying sometimes altering them.

But the bottom line about prayer working is that prayer always, always, moves me closer to God and to those around me.

Prayer can turn burdens into blessings and obstacles into opportunities.

Prayer can heal my heart and the heart of another.

Prayer is the name of the constant, ongoing conversation I am having with God.

Prayer opens my eyes to see the holiness of all creation.

Prayer moves my heart from resentment to gratitude.

Prayer leads me to embrace the truth that all that happens to me and within me is the will of my loving God.

Prayers helps me see and taste God in the mundane and the profane as well as the profound and the cursory.

Prayer can move mountains, open doors, lead to the miraculous, soften the hardness, and turn wrestling into nestling.

But for me, today, above all, prayer is the language and movement of love I use to speak to my Holy Beloved.

 

There is a story in the Gospels about a man with a sick child, believing that Jesus can heal his child, comes to Jesus and says the most amazing thing, “Lord, I believe but help my unbelief.”  It is not the most read story in the Gospels, and is often overlooked.  But I love this story of Jesus, of the man, of the need for healing, of the fragile beauty of being human when the father says to Jesus, “Lord…help my unbelief.”

If that verse of Scripture were translated exactly as it was in the Aramaic, it would be more truthfully written, “Lord, I believe but help me where my faith falls short.”

In truth, I have found my faith and my freedom in this little translation.  This verse is what sustains me when I pray amidst my doubt.  When faith is called upon to carry me and I am weak.  When I am called to stand with and for others and I shrink back and tremble.  And when I have nothing left, and I cry out to God in anguish and anger, empty over the state of my life, hating every part of my existence, when THAT is all I have left, the man in this story taught me to pray: Lord, I believe, but help me where my faith falls short.

In those eleven words comes the freedom to be raw and real with my God; to bare my arid soul before my Creator all but begging for mere scraps of Divine Love and Presence.  In those words, I am reminded that even my faith is a gift from God; even the lack of my faith is a gift from God.  It is as if I am stranded on a cliff and my rope is a few inches too short to reach the top to pull myself up, and God is the extra few inches of rope, God is the ledge; God is the very space between the end of my rope and the hope of my rescue.

In these moments of life, when I cannot see salvation, when I cannot find love in my heart, when bitterness and rage strangle my spirit…it is then that I cry out in a voice raw and raspy from screams and sickness: Lord, I believe…but help me where my faith falls short.

And it is enough.

Who is your enemy?  Who is difficult for you?

Try praying for them.

Go to God on their behalf remembering them as fellow humans, as people. Pray as a child of God for these other children of God. Trust the teacher and practice praying, for through this we learn to love everyone.

-Br. Luke Ditewig

Praying is not only listening to but listening with.

The discipline of the heart makes us stand in the presence of God with all we have and are: our fears and anxieties, our guilt and shame, our sexual fantasies, our greed and anger, our joys, successes, aspirations and hopes, our reflections, dreams and mental wandering, and most of all our people, family, friends and enemies, in short all that makes us who we are….

We tend to present to God only those parts of ourselves with which we feel relatively comfortable and which we think will evoke a positive response. Thus our prayer becomes very selective and narrow. And not just our prayer but also our self-knowledge because by behaving as strangers before God we become strangers to ourselves.”

Henri J. M. Nouwen, The Only Necessary Thing

There are four prayers I fall back on, four that I try and pray daily: Thank You; Please; Help and Wow!  They can sum up my spiritual life and my relationship with God.

Prayer is an amazingly simple, yet profound experience; it is something that is hard to teach, unless by example.  Prayer is not something, in my estimation, that can be done wrong (except maybe to not pray at all). I mean to say that as long as one is holding the moments as sacred and as a holy ‘conversation’ – as between the creature and the loving Creator – that in and of itself is prayer and there is no correcting that type of conversation.

I put conversation in semi-quotes because for many, myself included, prayer has nothing to do with spoken words, but rather the living words of my heart in direct communiqué (veritable oneness) with God via contemplative prayer and meditation and being in silence in the woods or mountains or by a stream or river.

I say all that to basically let myself off the hook about ‘teaching’ on prayer and rather sharing some of my prayer life with you.  For when it comes to prayer, I am no expert or saint, but I do pray a great deal (like every day or else I am doomed).

When I pray, I start and end my days with a simple “Thank You” to God in loving gratitude.  And regardless of what is going on in between those waking hours, if I am alive, I have something to be grateful for, namely life (all of it).

“Please” is high on that list as well because if it ain’t obvious to you, it sure is to me: I am one needy little boy.  And I don’t mean I say please as in, please give me a Porsche (don’t like them) or a mansion (too much maintenance required).  I say Please as in “Please God, come to me, be with me, remind me that You are forever one with me…and as Your child all I need do is re-member my oneness with You…” and all is indeed well.

For when I say ‘Please’ and ‘Thank You’, I am merely paying tribute to my Momma and my Nana’s who always and often reminded (whether nicely or with a wooden spoon to my behind) that I was always and forever more to say Please and Thank You, especially to God!

“Help” is an obvious one.  I need a great deal of help, all day long, every day.  It really is that simple.  When I feel the sting of hurt feelings or the rage rising up when another idiot is behind the wheel of a car or I am frustrated with the addictions that rage in myself or the people around me (or when toxic people leave me feeling toxic), I need HELP!

And only God’s help will do…most other help is ego-based megalomania.

Yes, God works in and through people, but to me as long as my ego is in check and my level of self awareness is “on” (not self conscious), then I am attuned to the divine help coming through flesh and blood.  But when I am out of whack, and the source is out of kilter as well…hmmm, recipe for disaster.  As a wise person once said to me, “2 dead batteries will not start a car!”

And last but certainly not least, “Wow!”  That is the prayer I utter when I realize all the grace and miracles that surround me…from my dog Juno (I truly believe there is a reason dog is God spelled backwards) to the sunrises and sunsets, to the Blue Ridge Mountains still within eye shot.  All is glorious and indeed divine splendor!  And the best and most appropriate responsorial prayer is “Wow, God!”

Which then of course leads back to “Thank You, Lord.”  And the whole prayer cycle starts all over again.

So, if today you cannot think of what to say to God, might I suggest: Thank You; Please; Help and Wow!

Prayer is revolutionary.
Prayer is a seditious act against those forces that deem the material world is all there is; that what is seen is the final word.
Prayer is the doorway into the Infinite.
Prayer is what happens within us then slowly moves outward.
Prayer turns the world upside-down and inside-out.
Prayer is a sweet love song to God;
soft whispers of tenderness and rage in the ear of the One Who is Love.
Prayer moves the mountains of hard hearts and thick heads.
Prayer transforms all things.
Prayer is an invitation to let God do wonders in and through us, if we are but curious.
Prayer changes the way we see the world, leaving behind the establishment of the powerful entering instead into the true power of surrender and the realm of the margins and the marginalized, the place where we see God in his most distressing disguise.

As Karl Barth once said, “To clasp hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.”

 

My Lord God, I have no idea of where I am going.

I do not see the road ahead of me.

I cannot know for certain where it will end.

Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.

And I know that if I do this You will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore I will trust You always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for You are ever with me, and You will never leave me to face my perils alone.

(Thomas Merton)

from Thoughts In Solitude

“The one journey that ultimately matters is the journey into the place of stillness deep within one’s self. To reach that place is to be at home; to fail to reach it is to be forever restless. In [contemplative prayer] we catch a vision of not only what is, but what can be. Contrary to what we have thought, contemplatives are the great doers.”

N. Gordon Cosby

The Journey of faith is a twofold journey: it is a journey inward and it is a journey outward.

The inward journey is the starting point, the infinite steps that have no end…towards God, others and ourselves; it is a journey that goes on for the ages.  This inward journey leads then to the outward journey, the journey of self in service to God, others and the earth.

The key that unlocks this journey is prayer but is found in the ordinariness of life – the practice of the dailiness of our days.  For not many of us live on the mountain top all year round, no, for many of us there are dishes and diapers and bills and demons and darkness, fragile faith and nagging doubts.  But God is greater than all of these and thus we are immersed in the Divine every moment of our existence.  We are given, lovingly, the power to choose to recognize the very sacredness of our existence in every Moment.  With God there is no past, or future, there is only now for time is a human construct.  God is timeless and when we are in the now, we are indeed one with the Infinite Love.

Prayer allows us to enter into the emptiness of silence where we are awakened to the fullness of God and to the power of prayer to mold us into a people of relentless love, messy grace, and compassionate service.

It is this silence that feeds the journey inward and the journey outward, and it is in this twofold journey that leads us to a divine banquet, one where we can taste our lives as a holy space where God and flesh meet, the place where the boundary between the sacred and the profane dissolves and all is wrapped in the warm tenderness of God’s love.

 

Author’s Note: I first learned of and experienced this naming of the journey as both inward and outward when I was a member of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC back in the 1990s.

For more information on this journey, please click on the link (www.inwardoutward.org).  And to read the book that inspired such missions and fed my soul deeply please see the book by Elizabeth O’Connor, Journey Inward, Journey Outward.  It can be purchased online at Amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com/Journey-Inward-Outward-Elizabeth-OConnor/dp/0060663324)

This was sent to me by a friend, Jeannie Kirkhope.  Jeannie runs the Appalachian Catholic Worker in West Virginia and she has been giving me spiritual and emotional support for starting my ‘God Dream’ retreat center.  We also had (have) a mutual friend from DC who spent his life serving God and the poor.

You can click on the live link to check out the Appalachian Catholic Worker!  Pray for them, go visit them, maybe send an online financial donation in honor of the Advent Season…

 

The Inner Hermit

“I want to be with God in prayer.”
“What you want is an absurdity.”

“Why?”

“Because, whenever you are,
God is not;
Whenever God is,
you are not;
so how could you be with God?”

Later the Master said,
“Seek aloneness.
When you are with someone else,
you are not alone;
When you are ‘with God,’
you are not alone.
The only way to be really with God
is to be utterly alone.
Then, hopefully, God will be
and you will not.”

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