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Archive for August 18th, 2010

About Prayer: An Overarching Perspective

(By Jorge Madrid Sr., posted with the author’s permission)

Ark-within-the-Holy-of-Holies

Within-the-Holy-of-Holies

“One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.” (Psalm 27:4)

Prayer, like love,  is a “many splendored” thing – for, in fact, true prayer, to be prayer at all, must be driven by agape love for it is an expression of the love of God which has been poured into us by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5).  It is the media of communications through which we express the love and sincerity of our intent as we live out the surrender of our very selves to the Living God!

It is “many splendored” because of the beauty and multiplicity of its facets. Facets that are designed by God to permit we flawed humans to draw near to the Holy one and express our love and devotion to Him and to Him alone in an infinite variety of ways.  And we know that the only reason we are able to express this love for Him in this way is because, through Jesus, we have come to know Him personally, because He first loved us so that we could love Him!

For many of us, the most common facet of “praying”  is asking or petitioning God to help us in the various difficulties and trials of our lives or to intercede through supplications for the healing or salvation for those around us.  And that type of prayer is certainly exemplified in the Psalms. But from the insight we sense about prayer from reading the scriptures we begin to understand that prayer is the means the Lord uses to draw us closer to Himself by moving us from merely pleading for His assistance, to entering into a relationship with Him by bringing us into his courts with Praise and Thanksgiving and then into the Holy of Holies of His Presence for the ultimate expression of prayer – the Worship of the Most High.

Prayer, can take on many conceivable forms, from a just a whimper of a call to God for help, to a Glorious Chorus of the “Messiah”, to the ultimate prayer of worship at the Eucharist. It may be expressed in our silent adoration of the Sacred Host, or our meditation on His Word. It may be verbal, or non-verbal; it may be as a spiritual song in other tongues, or it may be as a simple prayer of petition. It may be instrumental music, spiritual dance or some other pious action.  But for it to be truly prayer it must come from the very depths of our heart. For it is in the stillness of the sanctuary of our hearts that the Lord desires to meet with us.

To really understand prayer from this level of perspective, we must go beyond the rudimentary concepts of prayer that are rooted in the limited religious experience we received as children. If we wish to go deeper in prayer, we need to first meditate on God’s Prime Directive regarding how we are to love Him because true prayer must be motivated above all by our love for the Lover of our Souls. That is why He says to those who have dedicated themselves to honor Him, “Thou shall love the LORD thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might”[1].

The first thing we notice is that the directive specifies the three states or levels of awareness that comprise the human essence, namely, spirit (heart), soul (mind), and body (might or strength). These are the three states or levels of human awareness in which Jesus was tested by Satan[2] at the beginning of his ministry. Clearly Jesus was being tested on His faithfulness to this Prime Directive  regarding the intensity of Love for the Divine. Had he failed on any count, Jesus would have been disqualified to fulfill His mission because he would have disobeyed the direct command of God, His Father (and Satan knew this).

Jesus In Deep Prayer

Jesus In Deep Prayer

Applying this directive to our own lives, we see that loving God requires our full commitment at the three levels of awareness of our own person (body, soul, and spirit). Since ideal prayer consists of our expression of love for God, our prayers should necessarily encompass all three levels, although not always simultaneously.

However, the one level each of us must always strive for in order for prayer to be true prayer, is that the intent of our prayer must be driven by the sincere and utmost desire of our hearts (“spirit”) to express our love for God.  The purity (sincerity) of our intent is the altar of incense from which our prayers move to the throne of God. Without this underlying basis our prayers are merely words or thoughts that we utter to ourselves in order to assuage our self-guilt or self image (as in the comparison given by Jesus of the prayers of Pharisee and the Tax collector[3]).

In fact, this impulse of Love toward God is in itself the purest of prayers even when it does not become a thought or a verbal prayer or a pious action[4]. There are those who have dedicated themselves to perfect their personal prayer at this level, the prayer of silence. These are termed as “contemplatives”. For most of   us, however, such a pure intent of love is clouded over by our very human nature that is conditioned to express itself through mental, verbal, or pious action. In many cases we also harbor barriers within our souls that inhibit entry into the purity of the ideal contemplative state. For this reason, unless God has especially graced us with this state of pure prayer, we first must usually first pass through the levels of prayer that involve the expression of our love for God through mental, verbal and pious actions.

The mental level of prayer is sometimes termed “meditation” in the Ignatian[5] sense. At this level we use our mental abilities, including our imagination to ponder the Word of God and the life of Jesus to purify and intensify the loving intent of our hearts before God. Usually the period of meditation is interspersed with pious activities such as acts of repentance, fasting, and confession that reinforce and perpetuate the work of meditation in our hearts. The main intent of this type of meditation is to permit the Holy Spirit to take us from a mere intellectualization of the events of salvation history and bring us to a real spiritual awareness of what this great salvation has accomplished for us individually and to hear the call of God to our spirits to repent and draw near to Him! As we grow in understanding during this period we also begin to see that as the pure desire of  the love of God permeates our being that every thought and act that flows from that love becomes a steady stream of continuous prayer.

As prayer begins to take over our lives we find that the world around us no longer dominates our thinking or our desires. Yes, we are still able to function in the world but now we function as a channel of God’s love for the world. We are more and more able to see the Kingdom of God being manifested in the circumstances and people around us. We no longer need to be in control  because now every circumstance in our lives is redeemed to be used by our Creator for the manifestation of His Kingdom. Praised be His Name forever!

Prayer is integral and essential to a person’s spiritual life. St.Theresa of Avila in her masterful treatise on the spiritual life, “The Interior Castle”, she states that “… souls that are without prayer are as people whose bodies or limbs are paralyzed: They possess feet and hands but cannot control them. In the same way there are souls so infirm and so accustomed to busying themselves with outside affairs that nothing can be done for them, and it seems as though they are incapable of entering within themselves at all. Unless they strive to realize their miserable condition and to remedy it, they will be turned into pillars of salt for not looking within themselves, just as Lot’s wife was because she looked back.”

Regarding entry into the spiritual life, our “interior castle”, she continues saying,

“As far as I understand, the door of entry into this castle is prayer and meditation. I do not say mental prayer rather then vocal, for if it is prayer at all, it must be accompanied by meditation.[6]

If you  are hungry for God, if you are seeking Him and Him alone then find the door to your “interior castle” and enter in through prayer, centering on Him who is the “Door”, Jesus, the Son of the Living God! For He says to us: “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you”[7]

~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~

Entering the Inner Stillness

Enmeshed in life’s commotion,

Our ears deadened in the strife,

As cries our famished spirit

For the real sustenance of life.


From an inner thirst and hunger

Beyond all the world can impart.

Beyond the parched desert of emotions

For a Love that satisfies the heart.


Why then, do we refuse to listen,

If so desperate our plight ?

To words of Life beyond our hearing,

To visions of Love beyond our sight.


A Love that knocks incessantly

‘Til our gates we open to its Life.

To drink in the Living Water

And consume the Bread of Life.


Enter then, that inner stillness,

God’s sanctuary, in your soul,

And imbibe that Love Eternal

That fills and makes you whole!

Jorge Madrid Sr., AMDG

~~~~~~~

(By Jorge Madrid Sr., as excerpted with permission from “Thy Kingdom Come” by Jorge Madrid Sr.; © 2003 Madrid Family Trust, all rights reserved)

Footnotes

[1] Deuteronomy. 6:5

[2] Matthew 4:1-11

[3] Luke 18:10-14

[4] See Chapter 3 in the booklet “The Cloud of Unknowing”

[5] I  refer here  to “The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola”

[6] See First Mansions, Chapter Two, Paragraphs 6 and 7 in the “The Interior Castle”.

[7] Matthew 7:7

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