03 September 2011

Prayer is like love in marriage

Every good book on prayer has something beneficial for both a beginner at prayer and one is long adept at it.  I've recently finished reading just such a book: Father Jerome Bertram's Jesus, Teach Us to Pray.
After considering why we pray in the first place, Father Bertam begins his reflections in the Upper Room as a way to understand the basis and the purpose of prayer.  From the Upper Room he offers his reflections about how and why we should talk with God and then why and how we should think about God.  The final chapters of the book are insightful considerations on the various lines of the Our Father.
Prayer, he says,
...is an opening of heart and soul and might to absorb the love of God, to allow Him to irratdiate us with His love, to soak into us so that we are saturated with a love that must overflow and radiate outwards towards those we meet.  In the process we will become aware of His overwhelming love for us, a love that builds us up, burns away all our defects, transforms us into precisely the sort of person we most want to be.  It is true, then, that prayer does enhance us, but only if we begin on the road of opening outwards towards love.  If our intention is our own gain, we shall succeed in gaining nothing.  If our intention is to turn outwards to God and neighbor, then we shal discover how much we have gained in the process, not less than everything.
In this, it is exactly like married human love, which is why that is the perfect parable for the love of God (Ephesians 5:32).  If our intention is simply to use a spouse as a means of enhancing our own life, we shall fail in misery.  If our whole delight is in the happiness of the spouse, we shall find that our own life has been transformed in love, we shall discover that we have everything we could possibly want.  Of course many of the things we thought we wanted turn out to be childish toys that we no longer care for, but once we are perfect in love, why then "You cannot now cherish a wish which ought not to be wish'd" (Newman, Dream of Gerontius).
How long does all this take?  At least one lifetime.  Indeed they are fortunate who complete it in this life, which is why for most of us the ultimate purging experience of the love of God comes after death.  But we can make a good start now.  What else is life for (17-18)?
Toward the end of the book, he offers these profound words:
Fortunately for us, there is a great difference between "being in love" and really loving.  The common disease of "being in love" can often lead to marriage, and family life, and fifty or more years of cooking and breadwinning and cleaning and nappy-changing and home-making, not without the occasional throwing of pots and pans and slamming of doors.  After fifty years a couple can be seen to be deeply and truly loving, grown into each other so that neither is complete without the other, but the sparkle and the superficial glitter of "being in love" has long ago given place to something altogether more lasting and deeper.  Few can experience "being in love with God" for very long, but we all can have a share, eventually, in the deep and transcendent love of God that cuts through all distractions, and overcomes all our stubborn reluctance to pray.  After fifty years or more of trying to pray, trying to keep the commandments, trying to listen to the word of God, there may not be the glamor and the glitter - there may never have been - but the real deep love of God is there in the heart.
Prayer is not about feelings of love, it is about being, truly and literally, in Love, living in Him in whom we have our being.  It occupies the whole of heart and might, and in an odd way, despite distractions, it can occupy the whole mind too.  Everything that flits through the mind in prayer, no matter how irrelevant or irreverent it may seem, can be caught up into our love of God.  Nothing is wasted.  Above all we should never let our feelings in prayer deter us from persevering in prayer, for God listens to our prayer even when we don't" (142-143).
I think that about covers it.  You should read this book.

No comments:

Post a Comment