Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Habit of Prayer

Those uninitiated in prayer, and those who have never given themselves to growth in the depths of prayer, tend to see prayer as something of an encumbrance to life in the ordinary when prayer is really intended to be the ordinary in our lives.

Ora et labora. Prayer and work. A key Benedictine motto.

Although it certainly qualifies at times, and how would we make it if it were not, prayer is more than a recourse or last resort when life’s circumstances come down hard upon us. Even this opportunity to avail oneself to God’s graces through prayer, however, seems to be lost in a society that no longer understands the habit of prayer as the ordinary for life, a society that surrounds itself with so much futility, despair, and hopelessness, one that has forgotten, or never learned, the value of prayer as a lifestyle.

Prayer is the center stage on which all of life is played out through its various scenes on supporting stages. The personal and collective significance of this can’t be overstated.[1] “It is an old custom with the servants of God always to have some little prayers ready and to be darting them up to heaven frequently during the day, lifting their minds to God out of the filth of this world. He who adopts this plan will get great fruit with little pains.”[2] Liturgical form in prayer, when accepted and embraced as the foundation for all prayer, inevitably leads to healthy, brief spontaneous responses[3], including mental and nonverbal responses.

We are, I think, as God’s created, obliged to offer prayers to him. He is, after all, the Supreme Being and we are, though created in his image, honestly much lesser creatures. We owe our being to his Being, our life to his Life. The greatest fruit in prayer, though, begins to ripen when, while never losing a sense of obligation and routine, we find ourselves desiring to be clothed in prayer simply for the sake of prayer, simply for the sake of its communal nature, one that draws us into the experience of God himself as he is and of ourselves as we are.

[1] 2 Chronicles 7:12-14
[2] St. Phillip Neri
[3] RB Ch. 20