Lent – Thoughts on Prayer

Collect: Almighty God, by the prayer and discipline of Lent, may we enter into the mystery of Christ’s sufferings and, by following in His Way, come to share in His glory through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Descriptions of prayer are abundant in the Christian tradition. We probably have our own definition of prayer. One of my favourite comes from the writings of St Augustine. “True Prayer”, writes St Augustine, “Is nothing but love”. True prayer is nothing but love. We can respond to this in several ways.

Any loving activity is a form of prayer …for where love is there is God present with us. But Augustine is also saying that at the heart of our prayer we must place love. All prayer must be approached in and with the spirit of Love. True prayer is nothing but love.

The writer of the “Cloud of Unknowing” speaks of sending to God darts of longing love. Sometimes prayer is that simple reaching out to God in love.

A yearning for his presence. This yearning, this longing comes from the heart of us, from the heart of who we are. Darts of longing love piercing the cloud of unknowing. Even when God seems absent we are called to engage with him through the simple longings of our heart.

“Prayer”, says St John Vianney, “Is the inner bath of love in which the soul plunges itself”. I love this image of prayer as time spent sinking into an inner bath of love. We all know what it is to step into a warm bath, to relax into its comforting heat. Why not see prayer in a similar says John Vianney.

Definitions of prayer are important, inspiring but insufficient.

We only discover what prayer is about by praying. It is a living relationship, a relationship that seems to contain an element of hide and seek wrapped up in it, of knowing and not knowing, of seeking and being found, of finding and loosing and being discovered again.

Like all relationships it contains an element of mystery; moments of giving and moments of holding back, moments of revealing and moments of veiling. Like lovers prayer has an element of pursuit and being pursued.

We have to remember it is actually God who is seeking us in prayer, we for the most part are looking away.

But we seek this relationship because, this Love brings us alive, it is a relationship in and through which all our hungers are satisfied.

The simple desire to pray is God calling us to prayer, calling us to be with Him. We should listen to that desire that call.” As Mother Julian writes He is the “ground of our beseeching.

So often we make the excuse that we haven’t time for prayer.

The amazing thing is that if we give time to God in prayer, God will also give us time to fulfil those other tasks we are called to do.

Prayer requires time, attention, effort. We need to discipline ourselves for what spiritual writers have called in the past “spiritual combat”. There are moments when we are tempted to turn away from prayer, distractions and dryness will discourage us, but these are the realities that we must wrestle with through and by prayer.

In prayer, we discover where we are, what we are truly attached to, what are our real concerns, what obsesses us, what we are enslaved to, it is these elements that surface in prayer and it is these realities that God the Holy Spirit is trying to set us free from, because prayer is a place of transformation, change and inner growth. Like any loving relationship we are changed through entering into it.

A parishioner once told me that when she can’t sleep she repeats the words to herself “I am sinking deeper and deeper into an infinity of love”. This allows her body to relax, sinking deeper and deeper into an infinity of love.

And this reminded me how important our bodies are in prayer.

It isn’t just our heads that are engaged, but the whole of us, this physically sinking, letting go, surrendering our body, enables us to surrender our spirit at the same time.

Just sitting still will still our spirit and make us more open to the presence of God stillness with us.

The whole of us is being handed over to the love of God.

Prayer is a journey that we can make through stillness. Let our stillness be the prayer.

In today’s Gospel, Nicodemus makes his own journey to see Jesus and we are told he comes by night – he comes in the darkness. This could simply be that he does not wish to be public about his visit to Jesus. Or it could also mean that Nicodemus is experiencing some kind of inner darkness. And Jesus tells him something very strange: “You must be born again from above.”

We could see the purpose of Lent as our struggle to be born again, from above.

To be reborn is to experience life afresh, to see things as for the first time, with a sense of wonder, appreciation, gratitude and joy.

Like any new born child, eager and open to his or her experience. But this comes from above ;in other words, through God’s grace and not through our own controlling activity. We can only make ourselves available for this grace , prayer in the end is God’s activity not ours, his life, breathing life into us.

And as in any birth of a child there is a great deal of waiting and hanging around and so it is with prayer. But this birth from above is not a one off event, it is a daily calling and responding to new life.

This is where the element of discipline comes in. But discipline if practiced regularly soon turns into desire, we want to make ourselves available because we have discovered a love that both sets us free and renews our life.

Let us pray

Oh God, during our pilgrimage of Lent, through stillness and silence draw us to yourself that we may open ourselves to your living presence. Bring your sweet spirit of peace to the restless anxiety of our hearts, your calm to the turmoil of our lives. Be the still point in the midst of our anxious activity, be our rest after toil, be a cool shade in life’s heat, be the solace of our sorrows and disappointments. Fulfil the longing of all who seek you. Make fruitful all that is barren in us. Soften all that is angry and inflexible, warm all that is unloving within, and grant us gifts of wisdom, insight and tenderness that we may find in you newness of life which you so freely offer.