Prayer: Discipline, Practice or Conversation?
Prayer is all those things: discipline, practice and conversation—and more.
- It’s discipline because prayer requires some type of regularity. Eventually habit kicks in and the consequent sense of unease when left undone. For me, even the habit is insufficient but more on that later.
- Of course, practice applies as verb and noun: the more we practice prayer, the more proficient-prayer begins to feel right. And prayer as noun is a practice in the same sense that medicine and writing are practices—doctors, the good ones, are always learning. As are writers.
- And yes, prayer is a conversation.
- But all this is a process. One that progresses in phases.
- Conversations take time, sometimes a great deal of it. At the beginning of a silent retreat, I attended as a brand new Catholic, the priest ended his Friday night introduction with this statement, “My hope is that by the end of this retreat, Jesus Christ will be your best friend.”
My reaction to his words was pure fear. You might be thinking that fear is fitting, for fear and faith intertwine. And of course, you’re right.
But mine was abject terror… of Him. When I’ve said that to Catholic and/or Christian friends, they’re surprised, even shocked.
“Why on earth could anyone be afraid of Jesus?”
Perhaps if one needs to ask the question, no explanation will make sense. But maybe Judas and Peter can explain. Prayer: discipline, practice or conversation?
Judas’s fear of Him was so great that
he hanged himself.
“Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to thee chief priests and elders, saying, ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.’ But they said, ‘What is that to us? See to that yourself!’ And he threw the pieces of silver into the sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself.”
Peter, on the other hand, realized he’d fulfilled His Lord’s prediction: “At that moment, the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Suddenly, the Lord’s words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.” And Peter left the courtyard, weeping bitterly. (Luke 22:61–62, NLT)
Out of pride, both men betrayed Jesus and were filled with shame and remorse. But only Judas submitted to despair.
I’ll wager many scholars have opined on this question, but I think the answer is as simple and complex as trust—and its lack. Peter had learned to trust Jesus—that he coudn’t rely on himself. While walking on the water at Jesus’s behest and even in his own lifelong craft, fishing , he learned that he was unreliable. Upon seeing the immensity of the catch, Peter recognized Jesus in a way few of us can: “Depart from me, Lord for I am a sinful man.”
Yes, Judas’s fear—and mine—were derived from that precise realization, “Depart from us, Lord, for we are sinners.” But we were too filled with self-disgust to “open the gates of our souls” and feel His Mercy.
The gates of our soul?
But wait, a little background first.
From the first days as a Catholic, I sought direction, first as a member of Regnum Christi and then after moving west, a Benedictine Oblate. One of the promises we Oblates make is praying the Liturgy of the Hours, also called the Divine Office, three times a day. Although there are times, circumstances preclude my doing so, these prayer times have become sacrsosanct.
Composed of the Old and New Testaments, the Office is both guide and direction. Two things my easily distracted brain requires, constantly. Contained in the 150 psalms is every human emotion.
Each day in the Office of Readings there are exerpted sermons from saints and doctors of the church. Yesterday, I couldn’t continue past St. Ambrose’s “Explananation of the Psalms.” It transformed into lectio divina because I couldn’t stop reading these words of the saint., Pondering, thinking about the gates of our soul.
My father and I will come to him and make our home with him. Open wide your door to the one who comes. Open your soul, throw open the depths of your heart to see the riches of simplicity, the treasures of peace, the sweetness of grace. Open your heart and run to meet the Sun of eternal light that illuminates all men. Indeed that true light shines on all; but if anyone closes his shutters against it then he will defraud himself of the eternal light. To close the doors of your mind is to exclude Christ. Of course he is capable of entering even so, but he does not want to force his way in or seize you against your will…Blessed is he, therefore, at whose door Christ comes knocking. Faith is the door of the soul, and if it is strong then it fortifies the whole houseThe Exposition of the Psalms by Saint Ambrose
Prayer: discipline, practice and conversation is also listening as St. Benedict instructs in his Rule.
Listen… and incline the ear of thy heart
At times the mystery and paradox overhwelm me. We’re taught that prayer emanates from grace. And that faith is gift. From the beginning of the Rule, St. Benedict teaches that we’re returning what has been given. “For we ought at all times so to serve Him with the good things which He hath given us.”
Then later in the Prologue, we read that “holding that the actual good which is in them cannot be done by themselves, but by the Lord, they praise the Lord working in them.”
And yet none of these goods work in us unless we first ask. Like all those years I spent away from Him and His Church.
Such a simple recipe: we know we’re lost.
“Help me Jesus.”
Why couldn’t Judas ask Him?
What took me so long?
“Of course he is capable of entering even so, but he does not want to force his way in or seize you against your will…Blessed is he, therefore, at whose door Christ comes knocking…”