Prayer Is a Tricky Little Thing…
A Carmelite nun once said that prayer is the lifting of the soul to the dwelling place of God.
Well, truth be told, I have never met a Carmelite nun, but I imagine that’s what she’d say and I’m certain some holy person has said it.
If my false sense of piety disappoints you, it is because, like most people, instead of using this time to “let go and let God”, I have been masterfully distracting myself.
The number of excuses that I can come up with for not doing the things I ought to do is astounding. It seems I’m too busy to read Scripture, or to pray the Rosary… the list goes on. But what is prayer and why do we need it?
When I was younger, I watched cartoons and movies where the characters would stare out of their windows at night and wait for a shooting star. When it flew past their window, they would close their eyes and hold their breath and, you guessed it, make a wish.
The following morning they would be greeted by a shining bicycle or a yo-yo or whatever it is kids play with.
I’m not sure where the practice came from and why the heavy burden of our biggest dreams is laid upon a meteor passing through our solar system. All I know is that the fog that hangs over this deeply flawed practice can sometimes move over into the spiritual life.
When disappointment inevitably comes, it is easy to shift the blame to external forces, like the shooting star, thereby removing any sense of accountability.
Prayer is a tricky thing. In our modern world it walks the tightrope of faith against the winds of superstition.
An abundance of devotions
The Catholic faith is abundant in what appears to be a registry of litanies, novenas and chaplets. Some I have adopted with great fervour, like the chaplet of Divine Mercy and the novena to the Holy Spirit. Other devotions I have thrown into the bucket of scepticism.
The latter occurs when they arrive at the doorstep of the several WhatsApp groups I am in. The instructions of these messages usually go something like this: “Pray this now…pass this message to ten other people…if you don’t you will perish in hell!” Comforting isn’t it?
Such messages frustrate me as they take prayers passed down from the saints, and twist them into threats of damnation through compulsion and blatant guilt-tripping. Those who feel the need to litter the Catholic digital world with cheap chain mail, I beg of you, cease and desist.
Does this mean we should abandon all attempts to come together (virtually) and pray? Certainly not. It is as important now as it was in the past to unite our hearts in praise, thanksgiving, intercession and supplication.
All can be done with the many beautiful prayers found in prayer books.
When we don’t know how to pray, we can ask the Holy Spirit to guide us: “The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).
I stress this last point lest we should fall into laziness brought on by disengaged “script reading” of prayer books.
The question remains: what is prayer? The Catechism explains it by referring to the Church Fathers who say that “prayer is remembrance of God often awakened by the memory of the heart”.
And so in this time of waiting and wondering and wailing from the daggers in our hearts, let us remember God.