There is a very big difference between saying prayers and praying prayers, just as there is a difference in saying Mass and Celebrating the Mass/Eucharist. In our communication with God, it is not about the number of prayers that we say that gets a hearing, but more importantly the quality of our praying…..that is speaking and listening to God with perseverance. We can often be tempted to give up on praying because we don’t always get the answer our way! But praying is necessary and vital for our Spiritual life to bear fruit. If we have a mentality which says that if we chalk up 20 Rosaries a Day, and 5 Litanies, then surely our prayer will be answered. If we go down that track it always ends up as a dead end with the sign saying: WRONG WAY. GO BACK.
Very often our prayer comes under the heading of: ‘Listen Lord, your servant is speaking……..instead of, Speak Lord your servant is listening’.
Our life of relationships is nourished and sustained in and through conversation. It is not sustained just through talking and not listening…..when I was a little boy, nearly a century ago; we used to have a lady next door to us who would phone my Mum just on tea time (in Australia, that means, Dinner) and most of the times my Mum was very busy in the Kitchen, and my sister and I would be setting the table or peeling the spuds. (Spuds in Australia mean potatoes) Then the ‘phone would go and we would all look at each other….we knew who it was, but who was going to answer it….We didn’t have answering machines in those days…..if one really did not want to be distracted by the ‘phone we would just take it off the hook. We didn’t do that often because we might miss out on an important call. To cut a long story short, one of us would answer the phone and nine times out of ten, it was Mrs. McManus next door…My Mum could never get a word in…….Mum would hold the ‘phone in the air, and the three of us could hear what she was saying….and of course my sister and I would get the giggles. The conversation could only be ended by my Mum telling Mrs. McManus that the custard is boiling over and she had to go…. Now, prayer should never be like that!
The activity of ‘praying’ is most certainly a discipline, and like most activities which need self-control, it has to be practised. The first ingredient is that one WANTS to pray! It’s a bit like dieting; one can read all the books in the world about dieting, but reading does not enable us to lose weight; its only when we WANT to lose weight, will our reading be of any benefit.
Now, let’s look at today’s Gospel: Jesus is in a place praying in the presence of his disciples. Notice that Jesus WAS praying. What were the Disciples doing? Who knows: they might have been chatting, but it seems that they noticed Jesus doing something that John the Baptist used to do, and hence shared the activity with his disciples.
Respectively, when Jesus finished praying, one of his disciples asked the question, ‘Lord, teach us to pray!’ The disciple knew that what Jesus was doing, was very important to him, because he did it regularly. Here we are talking about ‘personal prayer’ not community prayer in the Temple.
The disciple was speaking on behalf of the group; teach US to pray! So, the group of the disciples saw that this was an important element in sustaining and nourishing the Mission, of the nearness of the Kingdom of God.
It would seem that the framework that Jesus gave the disciples, was also an activity of awareness of God, self and others. It is a bit like a three course Dinner. It would be absolutely stupid to have Sweets first, followed by the Main course, then the Entrée. So, therefore the Lord’s Prayer is really like a Menu for prayer. We follow a menu when we meet people: we become aware of them, and their family life and plans. We exchange on some of those issues, and speak and listen about what nourishes us, and maybe some issues might arise which cause us to be contrite, and finish with some symbolic gestures which reaffirms our neediness of each other and our relationship is strengthened through that encounter.
Then we go on further in the Gospel and Jesus gives us an important teaching story about the inner fabric of a person, which gets its purpose from the practice of ‘praying’ and then ‘action’ which either pre supposes that one ‘prays’ or a consequence of the activity from ‘praying’. In the first story, the friend, feels that he can ask for bread in this emergency. The one inside, virtually tells him to ‘go and get lost’! That response is NOT from a person whose life is activated by ‘prayer’. He should have jumped out of bed immediately to assist his friend.
Then in the final paragraph, we have a very important Semitic triplet: – Ask, Search and Knock! These three activities involve positive action and perseverance from us as we engage in ‘praying’. Notice I am not suggesting that it is about……’saying prayers’ I deliberately stick to the activity of ‘praying’. Again, this activity of ‘praying’ will not just happen, we must want to do it, even if we don’t know the outcome!
We will move on to praying prayers, then I will conclude with some more on the activity of praying. It is a strong Catholic tradition to pray prayers that have been composed by other ‘praying Christians’ or Jews. The Psalms in the Old Testament are Prayers. The Psalms embody all the human elements of living life to the fullest, with its ups and downs. As a Church it is a wholesome custom and tradition to pray the ‘Prayer of the Church’…..Psalms, Readings, Collects and Bidding Prayers. Now, if we rattle through our Prayers like a TGV express Train en route from Lyon to Paris, we are only going through the motions!
It does not mean that we have prayed our prayers, it means that we have got our prayers in, I feel good, and so should God feel good! Who is fooling who? The outcome will only be effective when we become one in mind with the original ‘composer of the prayer’. If our mind is on our shopping list which will be done after prayer, during prayer time……that’s not prayer! Here we go again…….we need to discipline our minds must focus on, and stay with the ‘praying activity’.
‘PRAYING’, USING GOD’S WORD IN SCRIPTURE AS THE LAUNCHING PAD:-
A BRIEF UNDERSTANDING OF THE USE OF THE MANTRA WITHIN CHRISTIAN MEDITATION, BY Fr.Kevin Walsh – Sydney, Australia
PREAMBLE: Preparation for the life giving process of meditation is a bit like that of getting ready for a Journey or the sitting down to a wonderful three course Dinner with friends. As with a journey, preparation needs to be made in lots of ways. Preparation for a Dinner as a Guest requires internal expectations of celebration with friends, and an awareness that the meal will not be rushed, so that the experience within the company of others can be savoured and celebrated. However, the bottom line is: – you want to be there!
Christian Meditation of its essence needs:-
- A destination, and inner fuel for the journey.
- The savouring of the moments within a momentum, whose speed is generated by one’s breath.
- The use of natural mind visuals to assist in this gentle process, which culminates in a holistic experience of: – ‘at-one-ness’ with body, soul, mind, and the world.
- The ultimate desire has to be, “I want to do it!” Meditation just does not ‘happen’; like an athlete who trains frequently, and hard, in order to race or swim; the same goes for Christian Athletics-the fruits of this process, will manifest itself within the quality of one’s loving service and forgiveness of other people, and the celebration of other people’s giftedness. The activity of self-discipline is required to stick at the Meditative process, together with Fasting and active care for ‘the poor’. In ancient Christian spirituality, that process in its entirety is called Asceticism. It is a Greek word from which Athletics is a derivative.
SOME WELL USED CHRISTIAN MANTRAS:-
- Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me.
- Jesus, have pity on me.
- Jesus, be merciful to me, a sinner.
- Come, Lord Jesus! – Maranatha!
- Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.
- Father, forgive me.
- Jesus, I love you.
SOME VISUALS TO ASSIST AND KEEP FOCUS WHILE MEDITATING:-
* At the Beach, either Dawn or Sunset….sitting on the sand….the smell of the sand, and the sea. Picturing the sea gently coming up the sand, and then gently going back into itself…..coming up on the sand, and going back into itself…. hence a gentle rocking rhythm embraces us, during these moments. Thus continuing this process its height, gently spurs us on into NADA…..or Nothingness. This is that time when we are out of control of our thoughts, and it is like travelling through inter Galactic space…in orbit, propelled gently by the process of being nourished by THE WORD, or PHRASE…..In this case from the Old or New Testament…The Jewish and Christian Scriptures.
* A SIMPLE ‘WAY’…..it is not THE WAY, because for Christians, Jesus is THE WAY, but in this case, ‘WAY’ means an uncomplicated and natural process, whose end or goal is experiencing NADA -NOTHINGNESS. This uncomplicated journey was formulated to a great extent by St. Benedict-Father of Western Monasticism. 4th Century-Italy, however he gathered differing thoughts from others well before him.
THE LATIN WORDS: 1. Lectio…..reading, not for knowledge, but in order to land on a Word, or Phrase that one’s being wishes to stay with, or make one’s home within it. 2. MEDITATIO….The savouring of the Word or Phrase in the form of a Mantra…..the visual that I like to use here, it that sucking honey from the honeycomb, or to use a contemporary example, savouring a nice small bite of a Fry’s Turkish delight. All the taste buds must be alerted to full capacity…this can only happen through savouring, not swallowing. 3. ORATIO….can be called Prayer…contemplative Prayer, entering into NADA-STILLNESS-DARKNESS OR LIGHT.
BEWARE! Living in a scientific and evaluated world, a world of instant gratification, especially in first world countries, let us not fall into the trap that the results can be tested and even evaluated, let alone experience NADA first time at it! Beware of trusting our feelings……Sometimes the overall end-result can be dry and uninteresting; let us not be fooled by those feelings, because true and real evaluation flows into, and through our relationships with one another in a two way street. Also, in terms of ‘prayer’ it is not a case of ‘Listen Lord, your servant is speaking’, but rather,’ Speak Lord, your servant is listening.’ Christian Meditation does not flourish in a rain forest, it flourishes in a desert! Food for thought! Eh?
- LECTIO….The reading of God’s Word from the Scriptures in order to land on a Word or Phrase that one’s being desires to ‘sit with’.
- MEDITATIO……Upon arriving at the Word or Phrase, the use of it as a MANTRA. When one feels saturated from the WORD or PHRASE….move onto the next stage……
- ORATIO…..Sitting in stillness, gliding with the momentum produced by stage 2, orbiting in within NADA – NOTHINGNESS – STILLNESS…..this is the desired destination!!!!!!
Finally, in the Book of Genesis which is the first of many Books in the Jewish/Christian Bible, it is opportune for us to take note that on the 7th Day of Creation….God did something….it says that he rested…..Now, God was not tired after all the Creating, so rested is not really a good word to express what God did; it would seem that according to the Hebrew meaning: God gazed! Or in some translations from Hebrew it says, God meditated. Gazing is another good word for entering into NADA-NOTHINGNESS. The fruits of creation in its entirety, culminating in the creation of humankind were the living words which cause God to ‘gaze’……vigilant stillness, Nada, nothingness, at-one-ness with all of creation.
Fr Kevin Walsh
Stanhope Gardens. New South Wales
Fr.Kevin Walsh has written numerous Essays and other interesting writings….a little bit of humour, the 8th gift of the Holy Spirit….do browse the website.
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