I have taken some time to mull over your e mail.. Much I identified with from parts of my journey so it has been good for me to reflect. Looking back and seeing how some of these issues have resolved, not resolved because of anything I have done or not done…resolved through Providence.
When you step back from regarding the old testament as individual books, and see the sweep of the history of relationship between the chosen people and God… There were times of deep devotion and observance, times of exile, of disregard but perhaps above all of a yearning and a feeling that fulfilment of that yearning is for tomorrow. Never for today.
When I look at my life of Faith, this seems familiar. With the important exception of the fulfilment of yearning for God. That has happened and is here, now. Salvation has been given, receiving it, being aware of that fulfilment is a different matter. That takes a journey of prayer. At first the awareness is a fluctuating thing. Periods of feeling very tuned in to the presence of God and periods…of not feeling tuned in. Looking back I realise that how I feel about my closeness to God at any given time does not matter and had been rarely accurate anyway. In fact the times that I have felt close have been the times that I have been furthest away. Then in the “not close” periods comes a desire for prayer that niggles at you. This is God’s doing. God is the instigator of prayer, not us. For myself during this period of God niggling me, I realised that my desire was powerful…but so was my avoidance! Without realising what I was doing there always seemed to be something else that I should do. Fidelity to a structure of prayer is easy in a community. Alone it is a constant struggle and a struggle in which we need not engage. Prayer is gift, always gift and not an activity which I can choose to engage in or not engage in. I am not the one in control. All I am, is open. Prayer is a constant in the background like a clock ticking, you only really notice it when the room falls silent and it seems so loud but it has been there ticking all along. The openness…hearing the ticking takes work.
Think of a room with a heavy curtain completely separating the room in two. We begin our prayer life by standing on one side of the curtain speaking, with hope and an insubstantial trust that we are not alone in the room, but without much focus. We send our words into the space around us. Over time we gain focus and become aware of the curtain. We sense and think about what is on the other side and direct our hope and our words there. Our trust that was so insubstantial is gradually converted into knowledge and surety.
Over years, the more we look at the curtain the thinner it seems to become, until we can hardly see it at all. The room has always been a single room, we have simply perceived it to be separate spaces…..all the time it has been a single space. Our prayer has nothing to do with words. It is a single, constant sound emanating from our very essence where God joins us and entwines His prayer with ours. Prayer is the constant. My perception of it and feelings about it fluctuate. God is the instigator and He is constant. My desire for prayer comes about because I am looking at that curtain. In attending to it…a part of me is engaged, I am praying, my prayer is in my desire and my desire is constant….like the ticking clock…..Except of course, my desire, my hunger, is not mine..
So where does the hunger come from?…….God. Why the hunger?….because we are in touch with God’s desire for us. God is within and all around. The desire is experienced within and all around. The frustration and avoidance? The frustration is tied up with both desire and avoidance. The avoidance….that is another matter entirely and re-naming it, calling it resistance might help open it up. Have you read brother Lawrence, the practice of the presence of God? The other text is Saint Teresa of Avila about prayer using an analogy of tending the garden, particularly the watering of the garden. It can bring things into perspective to stop talking about prayer and start talking about the spiritual life. Encompassing all the different forms of prayer we experience.
Another short practice that may help is the prayer at the beginning of the office, O God, come to our aid. This said on every act (entering a room, picking something up, making a meal) during a few hours of the day (until it becomes like a reflex) is the ticking of the clock.
I admit I tend to pray with few words if any. When I do have words in prayer they tend to be simple. A prayer I use often is I want you. No more than that and yet those three words encompass so much.
The feeling of being a fraud. This one is so familiar and so potentially damaging that it does need to be addressed. The first thing is that you have very limited control over what others think of you. The second thing is that the admiration of others can be a very passing thing and is often followed by it’s opposite. All you can do is live your little bit of the body of Christ. Everything else is grass.
The third and possibly the most important thing about this is that what people think about you is correct…at least about that part of you that they know of and in the context that their knowledge comes from. Everyone has shining parts of their soul. To see it, you have to view it from the right perspective. In the perspective they see you from…..they see your soul shining. From your own perspective, you see something else. Both you and they are right about what is seen. It’s just neither you nor they see the whole. The whole is a mixture of light and dark, of the ordinary and the extraordinary. God and man saint and sinner. Perhaps their knowledge of you is not about you at all…..perhaps it is God giving them inspiration……..in which case it is none of your business anyway and you can let it be.
Thank you my friend for sending my thoughts on this journey. At this point in this missive I feel the only thing left to say is God is good…even when I look back and see pain I can look at it and say, thank you Lord……all is gift and all is capable of making that curtain thinner and the clock louder.
God Bless you for all you are….and pray for me