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Wednesday, January 15, 2020

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Our prayer life should include more than just saying or repeating words

Our prayer life should include more than just saying or repeating words

I just finished reading a small but powerful book on prayer by Benediction Sister Joan Chittister entitled, “The Breath of the Soul.” I recommend it to all my readers.

Often we think of prayer as saying various words to encourage God to do what we want. Sr. Joan outlines 42 different qualities we should bring to our prayer life. I want to comment on a few of them.

The first one is Self-Knowledge. Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

In our busy world day, we must constantly stop and examine what is going on in our lives. Sr. Joan says, “The everything of a deep and demanding prayer life is an awareness and acceptance of the self.” When we know ourselves, we are becoming fully human and are in touch with the divine.

Another chapter deals with Gratitude. The mystic Meister Eckhart once said, “If the only prayer you say in your life is ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.” When we bow our heads in gratitude, we are acknowledging that all the works of God are good. We realize our dependence on our Creator who supplies us with every good gift.

Patience is another quality of prayer. Coming to appreciate the difference between God’s time and our time is essential to becoming spiritual people says Sr. Joan. We want things to happen on our time when we want them. It is precisely when we experience difficulty with the discouragement in our prayer life that we become stronger. In God’s good time, God will come.

Responsibility is another one of the 42 qualities. Fr. Dan Berrigan once said, “Prayer consists for most part in insisting that God do for us what we are unwilling to do for one another. Resolve: Let’s do for one another what we would have God do for us. This is known as God-like activity.”

We are here to continue the work that God has begun and to work with the Creator to make this world a better place to live for all peoples.

Another quality is Humility. Again Sr. Joan says, “The greatest obstacle to the spiritual life is the temptation to make ourselves our own God. It is one thing to know my own gifts and to nurture them but it is entirely another to presume that I have them all.”

Humility does not mean we think less of ourselves, or put ourselves down. It’s being who we are before God.

Abandonment is another key element of prayer. Thomas Merton once said, “Pure love and prayer are learned in the hour when prayer has become impossible and your heart has turned to stone.”

We often start off in the spiritual life with a wonderful feeling of the closeness of God. This is good but this is a feeling. God is still present when we don’t feel anything. When our prayer life is dry, that is when we are making true progress in the spiritual life.

Trust is another quality of prayer. Sr. Joan says, “The purpose of prayer is the process of falling into God. As the mystics say, we are beginning to learn that God alone is enough. The truth is that none of us really knows where we are going and must never take it for granted that we do. We can plan our lives but we cannot guarantee them.”

We must learn to live our lives trusting that God has a plan for each one of us.

The last chapter is Attention. St. Benedict says, “Prayer should be short and pure, unless it is prolonged under the inspiration of divine grace.” Sr. Joan adds, “In prayer we melt into the presence of God within. The Silence of God becomes the central, major focus of our lives, the anchor of our hearts, the stabilizer that carries us through all the moments of life – with all the emotional upheavals that implies – on a straight and steady course directly to the heart of God.”