Monday, October 29, 2007
TALKING IT THROUGH
'Come now, let us talk this over,' says Yahweh.
'Yahweh,' he said, 'I have had enough. Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.' Then he lay down and went to sleep... But the angel of Yahweh came back a second time and touched him and said, 'Get up and eat, or the journey will be too long for you.' So he got up and ate and drank, and strengthened by that food he walked for forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God... And after the fire there came the sound of a gentle breeze. And when Elijah heard this, he covered his face with his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then a voice came to him, which said, 'What are you doing here, Elijah?'
I thank you, Yahweh, with all my heart, because you have heard what I said... The day I called for help, you heard me and you increased my strength.
But when you pray, go to your private room and, when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in that secret place.
In the morning, long before dawn, he got up and left the house, and went off to a lonely place and prayed there.
But he said in answer, 'My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and put it into practice.'
Then he took them with him and withdrew to a town called Bethsaida where they could be by themselves.
So I say to you: Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. For the one who asks always receives; the one who searches always finds; the one who knocks will always have the door opened to him.
Jesus turned round, saw them following and said, 'What do you want?' They answered, 'Rabbi,' -- which means Teacher -- 'where do you live?' 'Come and see,' he replied; so they went and saw where he lived, and stayed with him the rest of that day.
(Isaiah 1:18; 1 Kings 19:4, 7-8 and 12-13; Psalm 138:1 and 3; Matthew 6:6; Mark 1:35; Luke 8:21, 9:10, 11:9-10; John 1:38-39 -- all JB)
One of the greatest problems facing Christians today -- and perhaps particularly Christian clergy -- is that we are so busy doing God's work that we forget about him.
He's left us a lot of work: preaching his word and visiting the needy and comforting the oppressed, changing evil structures and fighting injustice, stressing that good is alive in our world and evil needn't be the victor.
The trouble is that work can turn into busyness, and God's work can very subtly become mine.
We need to be reminded forcefully day by day that it is his work, that he has asked us to be his partners in his ongoing work of redemption.
There's an old Latin tag -- nemo dat quod non habet -- you can't give what you haven't got. What we are called to give -who we are called to give -- is God himself: his compassion, love, mercy, listening. If I don't know him 1 can't give him.
I can know him through his creation, through study, through reading scripture, through interaction with others. These are good, but there is one way that is essential. We have traditionally called it prayer.
It seems self-evident. But if we are ruthlessly honest with ourselves we know that busyness can force prayer out. The prayer with the congregation may remain, but the prayer which is my Lord and I alone together can be forced further and further to the limits of my life, and one day just quietly disappear. When it does, there's an emptiness.
We need that time with him each day. We need to talk over our life with him. We need to tell him of our desires and disappointments, our doubts and our strivings. We need to be quiet, to listen, to wait. We need to be with him in our sinfulness and forgiveness. We need to let him know who we are and how we are, to let him be our strength in our weakness.
We need to let him be God to us in the way we need it, a different way each different day. We need to let him be the God he wants to be through us.
Call it talking it through, conversation with God, just being with him as I am. Call it waiting, listening. Call it, as Karl Rahner does, an encounter with silence, the silence of the God who waits on me. Call it prayer, daily. Call it life. Jesus does.
We need no wings to go in search of him, but have only to find a place where we can be alone and look upon him present within us.
St Teresa of Avila
It is not for his gifts that I continue in my prayers, but because he is true life.
Gregory of Narek, source unknown
The question of how or when to pray is not the most important one. The crucial question is whether you should pray always and whether your prayer is necessary. Here the stakes are all or nothing! If someone says that it's good to turn to God in prayer for a spare moment, or if he grants that a person with a problem does well to take refuge in prayer, he has as much as admitted that praying is on the margin of his life and that it doesn't really matter. Whenever you feel that a little praying can't do any harm, you will find that it can't do much good either. Prayer has meaning only if it is necessary and indispensable. Prayer is prayer only when we say that without it a man could not live.
Henri Nouwen, With Open Hands
Prayer is nothing more than a conversation with God, who loves me.
St Teresa of Avila
Prayer is the sum of our relationship with God. We are what we pray. The degree of our faith is the degree of our prayer. Our ability to love is our ability to pray.
Carlo Carretto, Letters from the Desert
I know, my God, that my prayer need not be enthusiastic and ecstatic to succeed in placing me so much in your power and at your disposal that nothing is held back from you. Prayer can be real prayer, even when it is not filled with bliss and jubilation or the shining brilliance of a carefree surrender of self. Prayer can be like a slow interior bleeding, in which grief and sorrow make the heart's-blood of the inner man trickle away silently into his own unfathomed depths.
Karl Rahner, Encounters with Silence
The implication would seem to be that silence is a kind of death to communication because it disrupts social intercourse. (But) when the Son of God became man he gave to silence and solitude a new meaning and a perennial value. Christ's loneliness in Nazareth and on the mountainside is meaningful as an aspect of his communion with his Father and with all men through him. Since Christ's action is our instruction, no matter how demanding on our time and energy the needs of our neighbour may be, if we are to follow him we must discover a time for silence. There are many ways in which Christ can express his love in and through men; but there must be a listening to him if that life is to be Christlike. Christian listening is an aspect of Christian knowing; it is not the titillation of curious ears; it is a waiting on the Lord and a laying open of the heart to his commands.
Nicholas Madden, source unknown
Well, let's now at any rate come clean. Prayer is irksome. An excuse to omit it is never unwelcome. When it is over, this casts a feeling of relief and holiday over the rest of the day. We are reluctant to begin. We are delighted to finish. While we are at prayer, but not while we are reading a novel or solving a crossword puzzle, any trifle is enough to distract us. And we know that we are not alone in this. The fact that prayers are constantly set as penances tells its own tale. The odd thing is that this reluctance to pray is not confined to periods of dryness. When yesterday's prayers were full of comfort and exaltation, today's will still be felt as, in some degree, a burden. Now the disquieting thing is not simply that we skimp and begrudge the duty of prayer. The really disquieting thing is it should have to be numbered among duties at all. For we believe that we were created 'to glorify God and enjoy him forever.'
C.S. Lewis, Prayer: Letters to Malcolm
In the lonely place Jesus finds the courage to follow God's will and not his own; to speak God's words and not his own; to do God's work and not his own. He reminds us constantly: 'I can do nothing by myself... my aim is to do not my own will, but the will of him who sent me' (John 5:30), and again, 'The words I say to you I do not speak as from myself: it is the Father, living in me, who is doing this work' (John 14:10). It is in the lonely place where Jesus enters into intimacy with the Father that his ministry is born. Somewhere we know that without a lonely place our lives are in danger. Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, that without distance closeness cannot cure. Somewhere actions quickly become empty gestures. The careful balance between silence and words, withdrawal and involvement, distance and closeness, solitude and community forms the basis of the Christian life.
Henri Nouwen, Out of Solitude
I'm very busy, Lord. There is so much to do for you, so many meetings, so many sermons to get ready, so many people to see. There's a service to prepare for next Sunday, it's important and...
Just a minute -- no, not you Lord, me. The service for next Sunday, the sermon: the preachers are concerned with you, they're to make your word present in the hearts and lives of others. So, I guess, are the meetings and the visiting. And what am I doing? I'm planning them -- I'm organising them -- I'm wondering about their effect.
I'm doing all this, Lord. I've just realised that that dreaded personal pronoun keeps cropping up. Isn't it your work, Lord? Shouldn't the 'I' merge into 'We'?
Am I giving it enough chance to, Lord? When did you and I last meet, just you and I? When did I last make time just to be with you, to sit quietly with you, even to tell you about my day and how I felt and what fears I had? When did I last make an appointment with you?
I don't think I want to remember, Lord -- I feel guilty about it. Make me remember.
Give me the gift of making time each day for you. Remind me that it is you who are the soul of my activity. Jolt me into a continual realisation that you must be with me if what I do is to be truly your work, not mine.
Give me the courage to set me and my interests aside each day, and just be before you, with you, open to you.
Let me be silent with you, my waiting God.
Go, and know the Lord goes with you. Let him lead you each day into the quiet place of your heart, where he will speak to you. Know that he blesses and watches over you -- that he listens to you in gentle understanding -- that he is with you always, wherever you are and however you may feel. Amen.
Chapter 7 in Rowland Croucher, ed., Still Waters Deep Waters (Albatross/Lion)