STRUGGLING TO CATCH FIRE
by a Sister in the Community
by kind permission of the editor of the Review,
read to know we are not alone, a student remarks to C.S. Lewis in Shadowlands.
How true that is! We scan pages, much as a storm-tossed sailor scans the horizon,
in the hope of finding a familiar landmark. We long to fine someone who has travelled
our journey and has lived to tell the tale. We need encouragement like we need
air. In the Problem of Empathy, Edith Stein points out that understanding
another is bound to our individuality and our experiential structure limits the
range of what is for us intelligible. So anything I have to offer on struggle
in prayer is limited by my own experience. I cant speak to everyone,
but someone might recognise a landmark or two, and feel less alone. Prayer
the fire that the Holy Spirit enkindles in our hearts burns uniquely in
each one, yet the one flame unites us. Learning to nurture and share the flame
is a life-long task and leaves us open to the risk of being burnt.
Spark of Divine Love
entrance into life laid out a pattern for us. We may have encountered tenderness
or tragedy or, more usually, an odd mixture of both.
But each one of us carried
a spark of God into our existence, a spark
waters avail to quench, no floods to drown, and which no background, however
broken or blessed, can confine. For, by the gift of life, God made a covenant
with us and, through the mystery of His Sons Incarnation, bridged the chasm
between the infinite God and finite humanity. Prayer is simple. It is a way of
crossing the bridge. It springs from the covenant God has made with us. Through
it God acknowledges Himself to be the One Who creates us, the One Who redeems
us and the One who loves us. And each of us acknowledges that we are the one He
creates, the one He redeems and the one He loves. Simple, yes, but not easy. For
life itself is not easy. It holds the capacity for good and evil. Our everyday
reality reveals that we are holy and sinful. O to vex me, contraries meet
in one John Donne knew what he was talking about! It is the ever-changing
dance between these two contraries that causes all our struggle in
life and prayer. Some of us struggle more with the fact that we are created, some
with the fact that we are redeemed, but all of us struggle, in one way or another,
with being loved.
just not fair!
(but not necessarily), the way we begin to pray is conditioned by the way we were
introduced into life. And as any toddler will confirm life is just
not fair! We seem to be getting the hang of things and then the rules change.|
have, perhaps, managed to delight all around us with our ability to crawl, when,
suddenly, the hands are taken from under us and we are urged to walk. And so the
story goes. Through the varied and often confusing signals we are given, we make
up our own survival book for coping with life. We begin to value efficiency as
a way of gaining acceptance, which is a type of love with rules
attached. If people are introduced to God in the eat your porridge, say
your prayers mode, they will begin to carve a survival book
on God, on the small stone that is beginning to form in and weigh down their heart.
It takes all the ingenuity of an infinite God to melt that stone and introduce
us to His own brand of its just not fair love namely,
only sign given to this generation will be the sign of Jonah
from the beginning, warns us that He is not going to be fair. His way will not
be our way. Through Scripture, He tells us the first will be last and the
last first, breaking rule one of efficiency!|
insists that those who labour for only one hour be paid as much as those who have
worked all day which is really not fair at all. Deep down, this enrages
our hard-earned sense of human justice, so God gives us Jonah to empathise with!
For, sooner or later, anyone who prays will end up in the same boat as Jonah.
The road to that boat is long and winding for some; short and swift for others.
Have you caught sight of Me, Jonas, My son? I am Mercy, within Mercy, within
Mercy. (Thomas Merton).
and the Gift of Hope
the act of creation, God calls each of us from nothingness into existence. If
we pray at all, we acknowledge God to be our Creator and ourselves as created.
The Catechism tells us that the tree
of knowledge of good and evil, (in
the Genesis creation
story) symbolically evokes the insurmountable limits that man, being a creature,
must freely recognise and respect with trust. But man, tempted by the devil, lets
trust in his Creator die in his heart. Yet, in His infinite mercy, God still
calls each of us by name to that mysterious encounter known as prayer and, through
Baptism, frees us from sin and bestows on us the divine virtue of hope. From childhood,
I have always delighted in the fact that prayer is no elitist affair. Anyone,
at any time, has free and total access to God the Creator through prayer. The
only qualification needed is the fact that we exist! We do nothing to earn
access to God. We do not need to struggle to get Gods attention; we only
have to struggle to get our own. For, in remembering our Creator, we must freely
recognise and respect with trust the limits of being a creature a creature
burdened with the knowledge of good and evil. The spark of God and
the tinder of sin both await the free choice of our hearts. Most people,
in spite of the difficulties, are grateful for the gift of existence; they would
rather be than mot be. The beauty of creation calls forth
praise, worship and thanksgiving for them in prayer. However, there are some who
(while believing in God and acknowledging the beauty), experience existence as
a heavy burden. If given the option, they feel they would rather not be
at all. To come before their Creator, feeling like this, seems impossible and
almost blasphemous. But where can I go from Your presence? Psalm 138
cries for them: If I lie in the grave you are there. For death does
not bring an end to existence, only to this life on earth. God invites the heart,
struggling with the very fact of being, of living in a world where evil
as an option and a reality leaves them battered and fearful, to trust His
infinity over their finite view of things; to hope that the incomprehensibility
of existence will one day be revealed in its ultimate meaning Love. God,
Whose initiative of love always comes first, can demand the divine virtue of hope
from us because He did not leave us alone. He sent His Son to experience and redeem
our existence. It is Jesus Who offers us a trap-door out of the rejection of our
existence, (which is the essence of true sin), by His on experience of that existence.
Those who struggle to trust in Him, even if despair howls within them, truly face
the reality of humanity; and, by accepting the limits of their creaturehood,
with a humble and contrite heart, help bring all creation under the reign of the
Paschal Mystery. For we never pray alone and those who feel the pain of existence
and believe in God trust Him for those who feel the pain, but do not know Him.
The struggle to hope lets the spark of God burn away the stone of
mistrust in our hearts and its flame, while searing our being, warms all of creation.
and the gift of Faith
in and acceptance of the gift of Redemption is the touchstone of all Christian
prayer. The Good News of Christian revelation is that Christ has come to save
sinners. We tend to see our sinfulness as the bad news and we struggle
to accept, in faith, that it is really the happy fault
sin of Adam that gained for us so great a Redeemer. |
is the wedding feast of God and humanity and we long to bring something other
than our sinfulness to it. Our capacity for missing the point is legion, because
the only other thing we can bring to it is our grateful acceptance. The heresy
of Pelagianism is an ever-recurring temptation. Pelagius asserted that, although
God gave us existence, it is our responsibility to sanctify ourselves and, if
we but will it, there is no height of sanctity which we may not attain! The temptation
to be good by ourselves when God alone is good is most
subtle. It is as dangerous as is its complementary opposite
Jansenism which sees the human will as always sinful in all its actions,
and would restrict the value of Christs death by denying that it is the
will of God that all should be saved. Only the heart of a child can
accept, with serenity, that wonderful exchange wherein the Creator
takes on a human body and bestows on us His divine nature with reckless generosity.
Prayer is not an accomplishment or a possession; it is a relationship, initiated
by God in His self-revelation in Christ. As we pray and enter ever more deeply
into the mysteries of Christ, we discover more and more that we have no goodness
but His. Encountering our sinfulness can be prayers biggest stumbling
block; but Infinite Mercy invites us to turn it into a stepping stone.
Instead of running away from it, God asks us to accept our need of Redemption.
We must resist the temptation to substitute a series of good works,
merits and other votive offerings in place of our need of Mercy. Carrying
this need, with faith in Jesus saving power, before the living God in prayer,
is itself our greatest work. It provides another entrance point into
humanity for Mercy and becomes the corner-stone of our personal and communitarian
salvation history. The struggle to accept in faith that our need of Mercy is the
most precious thing we bring to prayer allows the spark of Merciful Love to flame
in our hearts and shatter the darkness of unbelief with the Light of Christ.
Beloved and the Gift of Love
is the beginning and end of prayer its only raison dêtre. Love
is the divine virtue by which we love God above all things and our neighbour as
self for the love of God. The vocation of humanity is to show forth the image
of God and it is life in the Holy Spirit that fulfils this vocation.nThis
life is made up of divine love and human solidarityuand
is graciously offeredsthrough
of salvation in Christ. It is gift and challenge.l|
are asked to accept it without reservation and pass it on without reservation.
And here, sooner or later, all roads lead to Jonah! Running away from unconditional
love comes naturally to us. Surrender to it would mean less control and set at
naught all our hard-earned survival tricks. In fact, survival, as we know it,
is not an option. We are invited to lose our lives in order to gain them. This
strikes our consumer-orientated world as a most uneconomical use of natural resources!
Even in prayer we would like to hold our options open on this one. In various
ways and words we tell God we will get back to Him on it. Then we run chaotically
anywhere to prayers, fasting, almsgiving, work, or other less worthy
diversions. But running is futile. We carry the 'spark of God
within us and it never stops calling us home to the gift and challenge, no matter
how we try to avoid it. This spark is the Holy Spirit the Spirit
of God on the waste and the darkness / Hovring I power as creation began
/ Drawing forth beauty from clay and from chaos / Breathing Gods life in
the nostrils of man (Stanbrook Abbey Hymnal). The chaos of our struggle
with love is all the Spirit needs to make a new creation. Love is the life
of our heart. According to it, we desire, rejoice, hope and despair, fear, take
heart, hate, avoid things, feel sad, grow angry and exult. (St. Francis
de Sales). The Holy Spirit hovers over all. And, if we but surrender the chaos
of the various forms of love fighting for supremacy in our hearts,
a new creation will be born. For there is only one eternal reality the
fire of divine Love. We receive its spark with the gift of existence.
How we nurture or reject it during life makes us who we will be when we come to
die. But this spark itself cannot die. For those ready to enter eternal life,
with humble and grateful hearts, it becomes eternal bliss. For those of us still
struggling, it will burn all dross away. Awesomely, there is a third option
outright rejection but this we plunge, with unconditional hope, into the
hands of Mercy, the Mercy that calls us to that mysterious encounter prayer
and keeps us tenderly in its care, however deep the struggle. From the
Merciful One we come; to Him we go, bearing His own gift of faith, hope and love.
Exposed on the cliffs of the heart, we struggle to tend and share
the flame, as we await the Dawn.