PRAY, LIKE YOU BREATHE!
The purpose of the story in today’s Gospel was to show the disciples that they had a need for constant prayer, and that they should never give up. Prayer is being in touch with God, whether he is speaking to me, or I am speaking to him. It is part of building the relationship with God, and it is the source of our spiritual nourishment. Without prayer, we become malnourished, and unable to resist the infections of this world. There are many pagan idols out there, and they are very ready to replace my interest in God, and to preoccupy my intention.
The kind of prayer that is the focus of today’s First Reading from the Old Testament, and in the Gospel, is the prayer of petition. It is a very important form of prayer, of course, but it is not the most important. The Prayer of Praise and Thanksgiving is of supreme importance, and flows on from the prayer of petition.
There can be some confusion around the whole area of prayer. If my prayers are always prayers of petition, I run the risk of being selfish and self-centred; except, of course, when the prayers of petition are for others. Like one of the ten lepers in last week’s Gospel, he came back to Jesus to ‘give thanks’.
The persistency of my prayer is always determined by how seriously I seek what I pray for. If I want something bad enough, I will pray without ceasing until God answers my prayer, even if that answer be ‘No’. ‘ No’ can also be an answer to prayer. On the other hand when we do pray for a particular intention it is absolutely important that we give our God the benefit of answering the prayer in His own way. As we pray often in the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.’ It’s God’s will that knows the total picture…. our wills can suffer from tunnel vision…God has the panoramic world view, and we should in turn foster an inner surround sound to not only hear and see what our God does for us, and for others, but we must also listen with the mind and heart as to how our God surprises us through prayer, in so many unexpected ways. If we just cling on to what we hope for in prayer, we may miss out on what God in his creative and all knowing goodness is already doing in us, and around us.
The Story of the Lute Player
A 14th Century Byzantine Monk, who for a short time was Patriarch of Constantinople with the name of Callistus II, tells this story of the Lute Player.
The Lute-player bends over his instrument and listens attentively to the tune, while his fingers manipulate the plectrum, and make the strings vibrate in full-toned harmony. The Lute has turned into music; and the person who strums upon it is taken out of himself, for the music is soft and entrancing.
Anyone who prays must set about it in the same way. He has a Lute and a plectrum at his disposal. The Lute is his heart, the strings of which are the inward senses. To get the strings vibrating, and the Lute playing, he needs a plectrum, in this case, the recalling of the Name of Jesus, the Word. So the Lute player has to listen attentively and vigilantly to his heart, and pluck its strings with the Name of Jesus, until the senses open up, and his heart becomes alert. The person who strums continuously upon his heart with the Name of Jesus, sets his heart ‘a singing’.
If you desire to give yourself to the art of praying, listen attentively to the still sound of God within you. For this is where the field of our heart is, and there the treasure is hidden. The moment you discover the treasure of prayer in the field of your heart, you will go off full of joy and sell all you possess in order to capture the treasure. The Lute is at your disposal and the plectrum too. You need only to pick up the plectrum and pluck the strings. There is no other way in learning to pray. You must return to yourself and to your true and deepest nature, to the human-being-in-Jesus that you already are, purely and simply by grace. Nobody can learn how to see. For seeing is something we can do naturally. So with prayer! Authentic prayer can never be learnt from someone else. It has its own instructor within it. Prayer is God’s gift to you.
Teach us Lord,
To pray, so that we,
Who so often babble
Like the Brook,
May be released from
Our too much asking,
And brought to rest our lives
In the hands of the Father
Who knows our needs
Before we ask Him. Amen
Fr Kevin Walsh
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