Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Tuesday in the 1st Week of Lent
Kernels rather than Husks

Readings: Isaiah 55:10-11; Psalm 34:4-5, 6-7, 16-17, 18-19; Matthew 6:7-15

In your prayers do not babble as the pagans do…

There’s quite a striking contrast in the readings today between the babbling of the pagans at prayer and the word that goes from God’s mouth. Most obviously, the pagans use many words, but God seems to speak only one. Yet the differences go far deeper than quantity. The babbling of the pagans is ineffective, whereas God’s Word always succeeds in what it was sent to do. The former does not receive a hearing from God, whereas, like the rain and the snow, the latter does not return without watering the earth, making it yield and giving growth to provide seed for the sower and bread for the eating. Why the difference? The reason is quite plain to see.

The babbling of the pagans is empty. Apart from the sounds that are made, they carry little if anything of those who are praying. On the contrary, knowingly or not, those who claim to be praying in this way are actually using their many words as a shield or a mask behind which to hide. The doubts and struggles, the fears and anxieties, the desires and dreams of the ones who are praying – all those things that would constitute the kernel of true prayer – are not to be found in the mass of words that pour from their mouths. All that is offered to God are the empty husks of meaningless words. The kernel, the inner self, remains hidden and protected. Little wonder that such prayer is ineffective. Empty husks cannot bear fruit.

In contrast, God’s Word is potent because it fully expresses who God is and what God wishes to do in the world. It is above all a Word of love – a Word that communicates God’s desire for the flourishing of all of creation. It is a Word so powerful that it actually makes God present wherever it resounds, such that there is life for the dying, light in the darkness, healing for the sickly, rescue for those in distress. And, in contrast to the self-protectiveness of the pagans’ babbling, the power of this Word is rooted in its vulnerability, in its willingness to be like a grain of wheat that falls into the ground and dies; and in the dying to bear much fruit (see John 12:24).

True prayer, then, is a matter of trying continually to present to God the kernel of our hidden selves. It’s not always a comfortable thing to do. Indeed, the vulnerability that this involves may even feel quite frightening, such that we may resort to different avoidance tactics. We may, for example, prefer to judge the actions of others, or pose very difficult and highly intellectual questions to keep ourselves and others occupied, or we may busy ourselves with many important, even holy and charitable, activities. But there’s usually a part of us that knows the truth, a part of us that desires to reveal itself to God, a part that desires to know and to be known, even if it means having in some way to die. This is where true prayer begins. This is the kernel from which life springs. And this is also where our Lenten discipline is meant to bring us. We wish to allow the husks of our babbling to be stripped away, so that God can see and embrace the kernel of who we are. To do this, we need first to allow the power of God’s Word to sink deeply within us. We need to allow the significance of the dying and rising of Jesus Christ, the Word-Made-Flesh, to penetrate us more deeply, so that we may find new courage truly to lift our minds and hearts and hands to God in prayer.

How is the Lord teaching us to pray today?

1 comment:

  1. Have you ever tried playing 'catch up' with the rest of the congregation in reciting the "I Confess" or the Creed? Believe me, you must try. It literally takes your breath away.

    I do not have a strong Marian devotion but I know enough to love and respect the Mother of God and my mother. On and off, I participate in novenas in the home of friends, during which an incredible number of set prayers are RECITED over and over again (as though Our Lady were hard of hearing). By the way, the only thing that keeps me going back is PRAYING the Rosary after the set prayers.

    "In your prayers, do not babble as the pagans do ... " This advice of Jesus echoes in the depths of my being. What then is praying, I asked myself. The "attitude" of prayer is one of utter commune with the Divine, and the Eucharist gives us the proper format - praise & worship, breaking of the word, entreaty, thanksgiving. A balanced prayer life should reflect these facets. The "act" of praying is a little more elusive to me. Setting aside a private time and space; posture / breathing are well and good and necessary sometimes. To me however, the most potent "praying" moments happen when God in His mercy 'zap' me totally by surprise at a time in the day when I'm least disposed to praying: it could be an incident (good or bad), something someone said, something that I saw or heard. Indeed, in trying to commune with the God of surprises, I have to learn to expect the unexpected.