Growing to maturity in prayer (II)
The landscape of prayer has been traversed mightily by our contemporary era and it seems as if we have explored everything about prayer. Hence, there are so many prayer houses, churches, prayer ministries, prayer contractors, “prayer prophets” and so forth. But it has become crystal clear that we have a lot to do in the world of prayer. So, we are still caught up by the awe-inspiring cries of the Apostles of Jesus Christ: “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1).
Lord, teach us to pray so that we can recognize, appreciate and apply the contents of the hidden life of prayer. How come the Words of Jesus Christ, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matt. 7:7) are becoming very difficult to come through? “I have prayed all kinds of prayer in the past and now I am still praying but my hope seems to be dying or it has been killed. Frequent failures in prayer have become my second nature. What do I do?” Lord teach us to pray and for us to grasp that there are laws of prayer. When buildings and bridges collapse easily, it is never the case that engineering practices and works are ineffective and inefficient, but there are engineers. So, it is with us as we make bad prayer. Don’t forget, prayer is never bad in itself but we make bad prayer. Our life and its content determine the nature of our prayer. The truth is that Prayer has laws governing its operations and order. They are faith, forgiveness, unworldliness, persistence, generosity, and prayer as a way of life and not an obligation or a task.
Lord, teach us to pray so that we may identify our false notions about prayer. “I am tired of praying because I am not experiencing excitement and full energy in my prayer.” The truth is that no one can sustain vigor in every activity including prayer as a pious activity. In view of the foregoing false notion of prayer, we keep composing new prayer forms, we keep multiplying novenas and rituals but you are supposed to “Pray as you can and do not pray as you cannot. Take yourself as you find yourself; start from that” (Dom Chapman). Again, at times we think that the best time to pray is when we are at our best in terms of thoughts, feelings and actions. So we see God as an authority figure or a dignitary that we are paying a courtesy visit through prayer. The point is that “The only way you can fail at prayer is to not show up” (Thomas Keating).
Lord, teach us to pray so that we can name and confront our demons. In every person is “both a saint and a sinner.” Once, demons are mentioned, most of us think of Satan as a personified force and one that is troubling us and our prayer life. But apart from seeing Satan as a force to wrestle with, we can meet him in other disturbances like our addictions, bitterness, weaknesses, fears, sexual wounds, scars, loneliness, woundedness and joylessness. The psalmist says “You need not fear the terrors of the night, the arrow that flies in the daytime, the plague that stalks in the darkness, the scourge that wreaks havoc at high noon” (Ps. 91:5-6). Note that “All the great spiritual masters offer only one non-negotiable rule: You have to show up for prayer and you have to show up regularly” (Ronald Rolheiser).
Lord, teach us to pray so that we can grow to maturity in prayer just as we keep maturing in other spheres of life. Amen.
Fr. John-Mary Atep