Contemplative Prayer in the Modern World

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Contemplative Prayer in the Modern World

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I think our meeting in between the Feast of Pentecost and tomorrow's celebration of the Holy Trinity actually is very fortunate, because that's where our prayer begins. It's a very good way of kind of grounding, locating our prayer. Most of us would like to be told how to pray, I think, and the trouble is that as we go along it doesn't get any easier. It's not as if we get a secret, it's not as if at a certain point it becomes smooth. There are times in life when prayer seems very simple, when prayer is nothing but stopping doing other things, and as soon as you do then you're in prayer, then you're in the presence of the Lord. There are other times, even many years down the road, where it may seem that you never learned how to pray, that you don't know what the word prayer means, that the presence of God is a strange expression to you. So it's a very unpredictable road. I think nowadays we're used to success, okay? Our whole economy, our whole culture in a way, is determined by, controlled by things which work. That expression, it works, is very frequent in our mouths, I think.


And if something doesn't work, we'll then forget it, throw it away. Well, life doesn't work. That's the sad revelation, in a sense that life is not a success story, that we don't reap all the fruits in this life, and the road of life is a road of faith, and the road of prayer is a road of faith, and it's a way of encounter. It's a way of encounter with a God who, if you read the Old Testament and also the New Testament, you find is a very unpredictable God. He's not programmed at all. He's very free. We're always trying to domesticate him, we're always trying to box him in, we're always trying to get him somehow into our method, get him into the machinery, get him into the game, but he doesn't play ball. And so we're always going, once again, to be disconcerted, to be surprised, and probably to become bankrupt once again on the road. We have to expect that. Read the history of the people of the Old Testament, read the history of Israel, you find out that's what happens to them. Just when they have it all made, just when David has established the kingdom, and Solomon is beginning to make it an empire, and they have a temple, and they have plenty of money,


and they're free of their enemies, it falls apart, and they're carried off into captivity. So I don't want to paint a scene of disaster, but just to confirm what you probably already know, that the road of prayer is no different from the road of life. In other words, that when we begin to pray, it's not as if suddenly we had found an alternative to life. Prayer is life. Prayer somehow is rooted in life and geared right into life, so that as we pray, we live. As we live, we pray. And hopefully we grow. But we're not always going to see the fruits of the growth. If we think about prayer, and about the foundation of prayer, we can start even before the Christian event, even before baptism, even before we have faith, even before we've ever heard the gospel. If we just let ourselves settle down sort of into rest, and just let our minds clear, we realize that we're living very close to mystery already. We realize that there's something within us which somehow is a presence of God.


We realize that there's nothing separating us really from God except our own commotion, except our own fear, our own guilt. But deep within us, there is a presence of God already. And this is true of everybody. Finally, we're becoming able to realize in the Catholic Church that God gives his grace to everyone, not just to us. And it doesn't only come through channels. It doesn't just come in the way it should come. But God's grace somehow is as free as the sunshine. And so it's always there, even before we start. I think the fundamental fact that we have to face, the fundamental reality here is that our prayer doesn't start with us. Our prayer is there before we begin, both on what we can call the natural level, that is that mystery which is rooted right in our being, or better to say that we're rooted in it. The human person is a kind of, what would you call it, a kind of ladder between creation and God. The human person is a kind of medium, a kind of mediator between this world and the other world. So already, before we even think about it, we're in that position.


We're between the world and God. God as it were, inside, and the world outside. You can also reverse that and think of the world inside as being this little fragile world. Now that we have the earth on a postage stamp, we can think in that way. Now that we've seen the earth, that precious little object, that precious little sphere with life on the outside of it, a bit of green on the outside of it, now we can think of the world sort of as a limited object. And that's what's happening in our time. They call it planetization. The fact that it's all one world and we know it, and we can't consider ourselves to be a different species from the Russians or from anybody anymore. We're all one people. And somehow we've all got to be one family. Okay, you can begin to think of the world as being inside God, and ourselves as somehow the living layer of that world in between the earth and God. The world is being brought to birth in God. Read Romans 8. The whole creation is in travail until now. The world is bringing forth God, and God is bringing forth the world.


And here we come already to that strange topic of the femininity of God, that somehow God is mother as well as father, that somehow God is bride as well as bridegroom, that somehow Christ is sister as well as brother. Maybe we'll get back to that later. But at any rate, we're there already before we begin. Now, already on the natural level, it's possible to have a contact with God. It's possible even to have mystical experience. I say natural level because somehow nature is full of God already. We're almost afraid to say that, but it's true. But then what happens in the Christ event? I'm leaving sort of out the stage of Israel, of that religion of the Jews, of that relation of prayer that we see, faith and prayer, in the journey of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and David in the Psalms. I'm leaving that intermediate stage out. But what happens in the Christ event? What happens as far as prayer is concerned? Well, let me read a couple of passages from the New Testament. This is Romans 8.


You can't go to a better place than Romans 8 if you want to find the basis of Christian prayer, even though it's not specifically all about prayer. Mentions it. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship, or you might say childship, childhood. When we cry, Abba, Father, it is the Spirit Himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are the children of God. And a little further on, likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. So learning to pray is not so much learning how to do something as learning the presence of the Spirit within ourselves, and beginning to open ourselves to that presence, to that movement, because the Spirit is movement. If anything, he is God as movement, not only the movement of God, but God as movement. Continually this morning I'm going to be talking about, sort of, sometimes implicitly about


the persons of the Trinity, about Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, because I think that the characteristics of those persons of the Holy Trinity are the key to our ways of prayer, as well as the key to our ways of life, the keys to all of our experience of life and of the world, because somehow that's our philosophy, that's our metaphysics, the Holy Trinity. The Spirit, Saint Paul says, is groaning in the whole creation from the beginning. That is, somehow the whole creation has always been coming to birth, and so we experience it consciously. We experience it because we have a mind and a heart, because we have intellect and memory and will, as they love to say in scholastic times. But it's in the whole creation somehow. It's very important, I think, that we get our picture of theology and also our picture of prayer onto a dynamic level, not a static thing. It's not as if the universe is built out of stone with different layers, and prayer


is a kind of, oh, I don't know, a kind of chimney or some kind of stairs that take us up to the second or the third story. No, the universe is in movement. Everything is moving. God is movement. And that movement of the universe – Teilhard de Chardin was a kind of great prophet of bringing back a theology of movement again in our time – that movement of the universe is reflected in human history, and so our prayer cannot be detached from what's happening in the world, cannot be detached from history. I think the secret of finding the meaning of our life is finding the way that we fit into that history. The way that God wants us to be pointing at this time in the history of the world is a very crucial time when things are really falling together or they're going to blow apart one or the other. When everything is coming together and at the same time everything has the greatest risk that there ever has been of exploding apart, of annihilating itself. So the way that we relate to history is crucial. That's what comes up in the Gospel, after all. For those Jews that meet Jesus, Jesus is history.


And how they respond to him is how they're responding to life, how they're responding to history, how they're responding to the action of the Spirit of God in the world. Galatians. And because you are sons, that is, children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, Abba, Father. So through God you are no longer a slave but a son, a child. And if a child is son, then an heir. And this is the liberation, the revolution that St. Paul talks about. Notice that it's a movement from law to grace and from the letter to the Spirit. It's a movement from something which is essentially dead and which is essentially somehow beneath our level, and yet we have to go through it, this law and this letter, the literal word. Even learning how to spell, even learning the letters of the alphabet is part of that. So much of our life is part of that. But God comes into this world in his Holy Spirit as God, as movement, in order to liberate us from that and to reveal to us who we really are. In our time, the last 20 years, there's been a lot of talk about identity, hasn't


there? About identity crises, identity problems, and so on. People have even sketched out the whole spectrum of human growth in terms of identity, Eric Erickson for one. The only identity we ultimately can rest in is this identity of children of God. It's an idea, yes, it's an idea that we get from the Gospel, but it's more than an idea, it's an experience. And it's an experience to the extent that we experience the Spirit in our hearts, to the extent that we know the Spirit of God in our hearts, that we know that the life that we have is the life of God. That's our real identity. But notice it's something that we can never grab onto, that we can never possess, because it's as free as the wind. Jesus says to Nicodemus, like the wind that comes from you know not where and goes you know not where, so is the Spirit of God. And so, in fact, is our identity because our life must be a life of faith, because we must walk on that slender thread, as it were, of faith, and often seemingly in darkness. That's what permits love, in fact, to be born within us.


That's what permits our life to turn into love. I'd like to read one more quote from the New Testament regarding prayer, and this is from the Gospel of John, John chapter 16. It's from Jesus' words near the end of his last discourse to his disciples, just before he begins his great prayer. So you have sorrow now. He's soon going to be arrested and tried and crucified, and they're beginning to realize that something terrible is going to happen, that he's going away. But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. In that day you will ask nothing of me. Isn't that a strange thing to say, as his final words to the disciples? In that day you won't ask anything from me. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask anything of the Father, he will give it to you in my name. Hitherto you have asked nothing in my name.


Ask and you will receive, that your joy may be filled. I have said this to you in figures. The hour is coming when I shall no longer speak to you in figures. What figures? Well, he's kind of used these images, you know, of the vine and of the dwelling. And he just used the image, his final image, of a woman who's in childbirth. You have sorrow now, like a woman who's about to give birth. But when she's given birth, she forgets her sorrow for joy that a child, that a man is born into the world. And so it will be with you. He says, I've been talking to you in figures, and then I won't talk to you in figures anymore. Does he mean he won't even talk to us in words, that he's going to talk to us more directly? The hour is coming when I shall no longer speak to you in figures, but tell you plainly of the Father. Jesus is the Word of God, John tells us. And we want to take that in its fullest, fullest sense. What does he mean, Jesus is the Word of God, and Jesus is the light of God? He means that beyond all images and beyond all words, Jesus is the very light and the very knowledge which comes up from within us, which comes up from the center and enlightens


our lives. The very knowledge within which is the light of our mind, the very light within which is our light, is Christ, the Word of God. So close we are to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. And what does he tell us? He tells us of the Father. He speaks to us of the Father in words without sound, in light without image, but a light which is always within us and a Word which is always within us. In that day you will ask in my name, instead of asking Jesus, we'll ask in Jesus' name. And this means that we are in Jesus, that we are to the Father as Jesus is to the Father. When Jesus says, unless I go away, the Comforter can't come to you, the Holy Spirit can't come to you, he means, if I go away, I'm going to be one with you. When I go away, you shall become what I am, and therefore my spirit will be in your hearts, crying to the Father, Abba Father. That's what we're given. We're given the Spirit of God in our hearts, and we're given this identity with Jesus,


which is a somehow unbelievable thing. He's become one of us, and somehow when the seed fell into the ground, he became completely one of us. He became flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone. I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you, as if Jesus were going to be in between us and the Father. For the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from the Father. Now, the essence of Christianity, it seems to me, is in these words, that Jesus is not the kind of mediator who is between us and the Father. He's the mediator who, by embracing both us and the Father, brings us together. Because the Father is in him, and because we are in him, therefore we become one somehow with the Father, as he is one with the Father. But more fully you can say we're one with him, therefore we are the child of God. There's nothing in between anymore, that's the secret. There's nothing in between, and that's why the Spirit can flow in us. That's why Christianity is liberty. If you see Jesus coming into the Jewish structure, what does he bring?


He brings freedom. He breaks it open, as it were. That's why he couldn't continue to live. That's why he had to die, was because he brought into religion a freedom which was too great for religion to tolerate, for religion to bear. Typically those things that he did on the Sabbath, you remember? Healing on the Sabbath, and allowing his disciples to pick grain on the Sabbath. He'd deliberately violate the Sabbath sometimes, and why did he do it? To show the true meaning of the Sabbath, and to show that the true meaning of the gift of God is actually freedom, by which the human person somehow comes into his or her proper identity. If you lift your cow out of a ditch on the Sabbath, but I can't heal somebody on the Sabbath, he turns it upside down, or rather he turns it right side up. The human person, the health of the human person, the freedom of the human person, the fullness of the human person is the Sabbath, and it's the Sabbath that Jesus brings. The day of God's rest, the day of God's freedom, the day of God's wholeness, there's nothing


in between anymore. See, religion somehow gets in between us and God, and the secret of Christianity is that that wall has been removed. It's Paul that talks about that most. He talks about it as the wall between the Jews and the Gentiles, and so on. But basically, essentially, ultimately it's the wall between God and us. It's been taken away. So it's as if the blood of God and the breath of God can flow in us, the spirit of God flows in us, the life of God flows in us. And it flows in us in order to flow among us. It makes us all one. The same way that the wall between God and us is broken, the wall between one and another of us is broken. But what a tremendous gift of faith it takes to live that. It's very hard to live that, because it's so risky, it's so scary. As soon as you begin to bring it into concrete application, you know, what is this going to mean in my life, it's very scary. And so we kind of gradually get our feet wet. But our prayer comes from beyond us, and therefore it's there before we are. Our prayer ultimately is something that's happening within the Holy Trinity, within God himself, the flow of the spirit between the Father and the Son.


And we know so little about that, you know, we can talk glibly about it, but even to have a glimpse, a little experience of that during our life may be enough for us, to fill us, and to make life worthwhile. People have been touched by God just once in their life, and it made it all worthwhile. Even people who have had a pretty wretched life. Our prayer arises from the gift of the Holy Spirit, whom we receive in baptism. Our prayer is the prayer of Christ to the Father. It is Christ who prays in us. The Word has become flesh in us. We're to take very literally those words of Saint Paul, you are in Christ. And not only our prayer, but all of our lives, Jesus is at the center of our being, and at the same time we are in him. So prayer is the gradual emergence of this presence, which is already in us, out of which somehow we grow, into the whole of our lives. Everything gets turned upside down, because it's as if God has to kind of exist and sneak around in the corners of this world. But actually, this world is a little dark corner within God.


There's a revolution in thinking, which is very important, that has to take place in us. The only trouble is that it's our living that holds us back. It's the weight of life that holds us back from moving freely into that enormous space that's opened up to us. Let me read a couple of texts from Saint John of the Cross on the intimacy of this relationship. He's the one, perhaps, who's most fully... he's been the poet, really, of mysticism in the West, in our own modern Western tradition. It should be known that the Word, the Son of God, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, is hidden by his essence and his presence in the innermost being of the soul. Then, a little later, this is from his spiritual canticle. O then soul, most beautiful among all the creatures, so anxious to know the dwelling place of your beloved. This means God or Christ. The Word, actually, Christ, because the Word is the bridegroom. In the interpretation of the Song of Songs, in the Christian tradition, the bridegroom is the Word of God, and the bride is, at the same time, the church and the individual soul,


the individual person. This is carried right through the Middle Ages and up to John of the Cross. O then soul, most beautiful among all the creatures, so anxious to know the dwelling place of your beloved, that you may go in quest of him and be united with him. This is all based on the Song of Songs. So John of the Cross wrote his own Song of Songs. Now we are telling you that you yourself are his dwelling and his secret chamber and hiding place. This is something of immense gladness for you, to see that all your good and hope is so close to you as to be within you, or better, that you cannot be without him. Behold, exclaims the bridegroom, the kingdom of God is within you, Christ's Word in the Gospel. And his servant, the apostle Paul, declares, you are the temple of God. We also have that amazing word that we are the body of Christ. We are the body of Christ. Can we believe that? Then again, John of the Cross. It brings special happiness to a person to understand that God is never absent, not even from a soul in mortal sin. I think it's very often it's our guilt that removes us from God. We figure, oh, it's that self-image problem again, as they say nowadays, oh, God couldn't


have anything to do with me. I'm too miserable, or I've done this, or I've done that, you know. Well, that's our problem. It's not God's problem. If we can only turn around and look towards him, and there's so many cases in the Gospel. Remember the crook on the cross right next to Jesus, huh? The thief on the cross, when he says, recognized who he was, Jesus says, today you'll be with me in paradise. That little passage in the Gospel should bring tears to our eyes when we read it. And sooner or later we're going to need it, too. Sooner or later it's going to be very important to us. We may not think so now. A few other points while we're on the subject of the basis of prayer. And sort of, you probably get an inkling that my contention is that faith is more important than prayer, in a sense, all right? That if you have faith, the right kind of faith, call it an educated faith if you like, an enlightened faith, you'll realize your prayer before even you start doing it. And you won't have it all depending on you. You'll find that it depends on God. So somehow, the basic fact is this revelation.


The basic fact is what already is, and everything that we do is kind of secondary to that. And if we get close enough to what has happened, if we get close enough to what really is, the reality of God and the reality of what God has done and is doing in the world in Christ, then almost automatically, almost spontaneously, the other part happens. So the key is in getting close enough to the fire. The key is in getting close enough to the reality. And we do that. We do a lot of that with our minds, with the simple use of our mind and faith. And also using our mind in what we would call a simple contemplative way, that is, just letting the whole of our being rest with the whole of what is. That can happen through nature. It can happen on a walk. It can happen just sitting in front of a tree, all kinds of ways. For the early church, prayer is essentially prayer to the Father. This isn't because we move away from Christ, because we get beyond Christ. There are a lot of people now, nowadays, some who have been influenced by the East, you know, by the other religious traditions, who will tell you, well, we get beyond Christ


and when we get into the simplicity, you know, of the ultimate, of God, of the absolute, of whatever you want to call it, well, it ain't so. You never get beyond Christ. What happens is, if he disappears, he disappears because we're in him. If he disappears, he disappears because we've got so close to him that we can't see him anymore. And once again, the contact is a contact of faith, you see. We're in him. Our prayer is in him. We should never forget it. We don't have to have images of Christ in our mind all the time. Sometimes they're very useful. Part of the time they're indispensable. There comes a time when we don't need him, but we should be breathing his breath. We're in him at that point, in that simple relationship to the Father. The Father, by the way, who is the invisible God. So where our prayer leads, really, is to a kind of silence and emptiness, in which, however, there is a presence. It's as if there's a glow. It's as if there's a light hidden in the middle of that darkness. The early Christians knew a lot of things instinctively, unconsciously, that we have painfully to relearn, consciously and explicitly.


Community is another one of them. I think ancient man and woman and the early Christians had an instinct for community, whereas we're born as individuals, especially in this country. So we have to learn it all consciously. We learn it by rote, as if it were a new, strange thing coming into our lives. They weren't born as individuals. They were born as part of a family, part of a race. part of a tribe, whatever it was. And so the church was almost built into them. The church was the ground out of which they emerged in the beginning, very nearly, even though it was a new event in their lives. They had a spontaneous, natural feeling for community. We have to learn it. But when we really learn it, we're going to find it within ourselves. We're going to return to the same ground out of which they came. And so it's going to be much stronger than we think it is. Do you see that the mystery of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is not just something that we have to believe or something abstract? It's essential to the Christian experience, both its source and its context. We've found that that's where our prayer comes from and that's where our prayer remains, is within the Holy Trinity.


Our faith, I think, needs to be very strongly confirmed on this side of the Scripture, on the side of the New Testament, on the side of rooting it in what the Bible really tells us about what happens in the New Testament, about what Jesus brings. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is what it boils down to. And not sort of as an abstract. I think we find it too easy to think of the Holy Trinity as a figure of some kind, as a speculative dogma, something like that, a doctrine, an image. And then we try to see how it works. Well, we'll never find out how it works because we're inside it. We're part of it. We can't get far enough away to see it in the abstract. So I'll have to apologize for using a diagram of that kind in a little while. But it's really as much part of it as our breath is part of us. Or rather, we're part of it. Let me pass on to some things about the dimensions of prayer.


So, to repeat, perhaps rather painfully, if what I've said already makes any sense, it means that we don't create our prayer, but it's already there waiting for us. The Spirit praying in our hearts. And silence and nature and beauty and sometimes what seems to be tragedy, what seems even to be crisis, what seems to be the ultimate pressure and danger of breakdown, somehow that's what breaks through sometimes. So anything can open us to God. And we have to be open from outside. The real key has to be turned from inside. We have to open the door. But it happens at such a deep level that we don't even know how to do it. We've forgotten how to open that door. So it takes the key from outside and the key from inside before the door springs open. There's a story that Anthony Bloom tells, which I've always liked. He's a great spiritual leader who was actually Eastern Orthodox and lived in London for a long while. He was a doctor before he became a priest.


And an elderly lady came to him once and complained she was ashamed of it. And it was kind of a confidence that she was revealing to him that she'd been trying to live a religious life for about 40 years and she'd never learned how to pray. She'd never experienced the presence of God. And this seems rather appalling, but then we realize it's the experience of maybe even a majority of people, a majority of Christians. So he listened to her patiently and kindly and then he told her to go back home. And, well, he asked her first what she did when she was alone. She told him when she'd knit, you know, she'd sit there in her big armchair, rocking chair I suppose it was, and knit. So he asked her to go back home, go back to her room and just take up what she was doing before but just listen. Just listen. Just try to be aware. And she did and suddenly she discovered as her knitting needles knocked against the arms of her chair that the presence of God was there, that the whole room was full of the presence of God and that it had been all the time.


Thomas Keating talks of, he has this story about the fish who goes to his mother and asks, well, what is this thing called water that they keep telling me about? She says, well, you stupid little fish, you've been swimming in it all your life. And so on with the bear, asking about the air. And it's true of ourselves. In other words, this presence of God is something that's around us all the time. It's a question of becoming aware. And so much depends on our mind. So much depends on our mind. But more depends perhaps on our heart. More depends on a deep desire to find God, a deep desire to find God, that we don't allow to be overlaid with compromises and contradictions and doubts and all those kinds of things that belong really to this world, belong really to a world which is much more fragmented. God's world is a simple world. The first rule is to pray with the prayer that we have and not with the prayer that we don't have. See, we can read all kinds of books about prayer and get revved up for about 25 minutes and then we find the second time around that it doesn't work for us. But yet we have something else.


We already perhaps have a presence of God. We have our own way of praying, but we haven't discovered it yet. So the first rule is to start with that. Not to expect too much in the way of experience. This thing about spiritual experience is very, what do you call it, dialectical in this sense, that the experience of God is of extreme importance. The charismatic movement has brought that back to us again. The experience of God belongs to every Christian. In other words, the baptismal experience, which we know is the baptism in the Holy Spirit because that's nothing but the release of that experience that we should have had originally when we were baptized, but probably because we were infants we just didn't have the equipment for that experience. So it comes to us later. And it comes to us usually after some seeking and often in the setting of a community. For instance, when we're prayed over to, as they say, receive the Spirit. It's more likely the release of the Spirit that's already in us. But at any rate, that spiritual experience is a key because that starts really the conscious life of prayer. That starts the life of interior prayer. From then on we know what prayer is. It's not just a word. It's not just language. It's not just something somebody told us about.


But it's real to us. We begin to do it as if it were our own. We begin to play it as if it were our own instrument, you can say, our own musical instrument. Perhaps we're the musical instrument instead. So the experience is very important and in a sense it determines the level of our life. And yet on the other hand, we have to be detached from that experience to such an extent... ...but not kind of sentimentally or self-indulgently try to drum it up again, to bring it back by our own methods, by our own manipulations. But on the other hand, we have to be able and ready and willing to go through that dark place. You know, we won't be willing, excuse me, just as the Jews weren't willing and just


as St. Peter wasn't willing. We won't be willing, but on another level we can say yes. We can find simple prayer thanks to the charismatic movement. It's opened up a new life of prayer for them. It's opened up the interior world that they didn't know existed before. It's given them a new experience of community, maybe the first experience of real community, of being with others in the Spirit, and especially of praying with others in the Spirit. You know, for so much of our lives we've prayed alongside one another in church. And all of a sudden we discovered that there is such a thing as praying together in the Spirit. And then there comes a time when we're left, as it were, in our solitude, and we have to be able to go along with that. And we realize that we're in this, at that point, alone with God, and nobody's going to help us. Maybe somebody will once in a while with a good word, with a pat on the back, a word of encouragement, cheering up. But basically it's between God and us at that point. So we go back and forth between those two. The darkness is fruitful too.


That's what we have to understand. That's where the birth takes place. That's where the child is born. Once we've had the experience of God, the baptism, the initiation, the journey is a journey of faith, and we need both the sunshine and the rain, the light and the darkness, in order to grow. I'll probably say more about this later on. If you can't pray and you want to pray, you're already praying. Desire for prayer is desire for God, and desire for God is already prayer. It may be the only prayer we're going to have for a while. It's a precious treasure, and we shouldn't sell it short. Listen to the psalms, because that's very often the kind of song they're singing. You know, God, when are you going to come back? Lord, have you abandoned me? My heart and my soul cry out for you. Notice that the heart and the soul are crying out. That's, I think, Psalm 42 and 43. Crying out for God as if he were absent, but he's very obviously present in that very crying out, in that very longing, okay? So we have two kinds of music, as it were, in our hearts.


We have the music of the presence of God, the music of praise, the music of celebration, and we have the music of longing. But God is in both of those kinds of music. The Holy Spirit is generating both of those kinds of music. So we ought to accept both of them, just as the psalmist does. Prayer, I think, is simply faith which has become conscious of itself. So in a sense, the faith is more important than the prayer. If you get consciously to that level of faith and are able to live it, then you're already praying. But notice that faith seems to be at the center of our lives in the sense that it can ground and motivate and transform all of our lives. We don't ordinarily think of prayer in that way, but we've got to bring prayer down to that level. We need to bring prayer down deep enough so that it's with us all the time. So that it's always there. Let me say something now about the dimensions of prayer. And here I'll begin to bring us into the context of tomorrow, of the celebration of the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity, which is something that springs up rather late in the Church, I guess, as an explicit celebration.


But, of course, it's already there in the New Testament, the persons of the Holy Trinity. It's strange that the early Christians didn't start thinking about God as Trinity for a couple of centuries. It's already there, but they didn't start reflecting on it until they had to defend it from somebody. Some of these heretical struggles that happened in the early Church. Let's keep in the background of our minds what we heard earlier. Our prayer is something that exists within the interaction of Father and Son and Holy Spirit. And then something else which is very important. Ourselves. In the end, it's not three, somehow, but four. It may sound like heresy, but let's go on. There's a beautiful passage in the writings of one of the Church Fathers, Irenaeus, of the second century, in which he places the whole of reality, in a sense, what we need to know, within a very simple little image of the Father reaching down into the world with his two arms. The one arm is the Son, the Word.


And the other arm is the Holy Spirit. And lifting up to himself this little creature that he's made from the earth. He thinks of God as molding the human being out of the earth, as we see in the, what is it, second creation account, isn't it? Genesis? Genesis 2? And so God lifts down the earth and molds it into the figure of a human being, and then breathes his breath into it. Now, the image staggers a bit there, because he's breathing the breath at the same time that one of the arms is the Holy Spirit. But you get the idea that here's the God, the Father, who is the invisible God, the untouchable God, in a sense, God in the sense of the Old Testament, whom you simply can't see, who simply is beyond the senses and beyond imagination. He's the emptiness, as it were. He's the fullness at the same time. And then you have the Word and you have the Spirit. Now, what's the difference between the Word and the Spirit? The Word comes to us in God's action in the Old Testament, in the words of Scripture, and then finally, John tells us, the Word becomes flesh, the Word becomes a human person,


concrete in Jesus Christ. So the Word is God, the God which we can see and hear. Remember what John says in his first letter? It's the beginning of his first letter. What we have seen with our eyes and heard with our ears and touched with our hands. Now, he's awfully emphatic about that, isn't he? About the concreteness, the physicality of that. And then he stuns you by saying the Word of life. In other words, what we have touched with our hands in Jesus, what we have seen, what we have been with, what's been with us on a physical level, is the very living Word of God, the life-giving Word of God. He says, that's what we want to pass on to you. And our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ. And we tell you this so that our joy may be fulfilled and you may be brought into that fellowship. So, what we have seen, what we have heard, that's the Word. So the Word, in a sense, seems to come from outside us. The Word, Jesus, seems to kind of meet us on the road, just as He did the Jews when He walked around in Palestine or in Jerusalem. And yet, at the same time, that Word is inside.


And out of that Word we grow. John says that in Him all things were created, and without Him nothing was made. So He's already there before He comes, already there inside. But He seems to come from outside. Whereas the Spirit always comes from inside, doesn't it? The Spirit, the other arm of God, the left arm of God, in the Song of Songs it says somewhere, the Bride says it, His left arm is under my head and His right arm embraces me. The left arm, the left arm that's under the head, as it were, is the interior presence of God and the Holy Spirit. So think of God as communicating Himself to us in those two ways, the revelation of the Word and the union of the Spirit. The Spirit is union itself, as if the Spirit has no outside, just an inside. The Spirit is all inside. So the only way you can know the Spirit is by being in the Spirit. Whereas the Word's a little different. The Word presents Himself as a sign, remember, which is contradicted. You can believe or you cannot believe, but the Word is there in front of you. So the Word that we get, the Jesus that comes across to us,


we get through preaching, we get it in the Gospel, we get it in the Bible when we read it. And all of those symbols and things that are carried down in our Christian tradition. Whereas the Spirit comes inside. The Spirit comes inside and somehow confirms what we have read, confirms what we have heard. In fact, it's only the Spirit that can make it real. It's only the Spirit that can enable us to believe, to apprehend it, as it were, to take it, make it our own, to become one with it. So those two arms of God. And that's how God joins Himself with us. As if one has to come before the other, in the outward way of things, the Word has to come before the Spirit. Faith comes before the reception of the Spirit. Sometimes in the New Testament the Spirit comes before baptism, but He doesn't come before faith, though. There's belief, belief in Jesus, and then the coming of the Spirit. And yet in some way, of course, the Spirit's been inside us all the while, hasn't He? So it's very hard, really, to separate things so that they don't pull back together again, because we're talking about God in the end, and God is one. How do we experience the three Persons?


St. Augustine spent an awful lot of his life, many years, trying to figure out, trying to answer that question. He wrote a pretty thick book on it. I'd like to approach the question from the angle of prayer and meditation. I once read a book on meditation by a rather unusual psychologist named Claudio Arano. And this, he presents a kind of triangle. I will show you the triangle. Simple enough. And at one side of the base he put what he calls the way of forms. Now, that's a way of meditation that proceeds by means of images and by means of words. So if you read the Gospel and find the presence of God that way, or you pick up a book of meditation and then follow its instructions, or say you pray with a crucifix, or you pray before a statue, let's say, of Our Lady, any of those things, or you've got some kind of images in your mind, you're reflecting on some kind of words, that's the way of forms. And that's actually the way of the Word, in a sense,


because the Word is that which is seen and heard and touched. On the other base of the triangle, the other side, he has what he would call, or at least we can call, the way of movement. Now, those of you who have had the experience of prayer and the charismatic movement are very familiar with that, because, in fact, that's what the charismatic movement brings back into Catholicism, is the way of movement once again. I'm afraid our hymn singing and our music before was a little too quiet or a little too formal, a little too stiff, whereas what the charismatic movement brings back is the felt way of movement, that is, the expression of the Holy Spirit, who is, as it were, the energy, the movement, the dynamism of God, or God as movement, God as freedom, you can even say. So there's the way of movement. Now, if you sing in the Spirit, or if you pray a prayer, which is, as it were, a moving prayer, it's as much part of you as your breath, and yet there are no images with it, even if there are images with it, but it's predominantly movement, predominantly passion and desire.


That's the way of movement. There's a third way, which you may not be so familiar with, and that he puts at the top of his little figure, and that's what, I think he calls it the way of emptiness, let's call it that. We could also call it the way of silence, but after you have, let us say, read the Scripture, or after you have prayed that rather active prayer, that prayer where your heart is awakened and seems to move towards God, you may find that what you really want to do is settle down into silence. And this happens to people even while they're praying in the Spirit. You know, in a big prayer meeting you'll have maybe a lot of song and ecstatic movement and sound around, and you'll find some people just settling down into this, just settling down, letting it all happen, and somehow settling down into a deeper space, where they don't really listen to anything anymore. It passes them by. They may pick up something here or there, but basically they're moving into a place of stillness and of depth,


and in a sense of emptiness. It may, on the other hand, happen at a time when your mind has been filled, even very preoccupied, worried, and all of a sudden you appear to yourself touched by God, and you're carried to a place where you don't have any worries anymore, and the only thing that's real is that place, strangely, of silence. The only thing that's real at that point is the stillness. You don't need anything anymore. It's all there, because God is there. Well, that's the way of emptiness. And there's rather a natural sequence here. They used to talk about, for instance, meditation first, and then they had meditatio, that's meditation, oratio, that's prayer, and then they had contemplatio, contemplation, which tends to be movement into this stillness. Now, the way that we hear about it most in our time is coming from the East, that is, from the Eastern religions. Zen, Zazen, for instance, is purely the way of stillness, where a person sits on a cushion and just tries to allow everything to leak out of the mind, as it were,


until it's still in one point. Transcendental meditation, practically the same thing. The Christian, the Catholic version in our time, is Centering Prayer, which comes from the monks of Spencer, eventually Basil Pennington and Thomas Keating, back East. Now, that's a Christian method of moving into the same place. But it's not as if this was invented yesterday, because this has always been in our tradition. The early monks talked about hezekiah, about quiet as the ultimate state to which they were aspiring. And when they talked about it experientially, they were talking about this, they were talking about this emptiness. They'll say very frequently, say in the 3rd or 4th century, don't have any images in your mind at the time of prayer. Now, for some people, a lot of people, that'd be bad advice, because they need the image. But after a point, when the image has done its work, the best place that we can be is in the place of emptiness. The best place that we can be is in the place of stillness. Many people who never learned how to pray have sat for hours and hours


during years of their lives before the Blessed Sacrament, imagining nothing, seeing nothing, saying nothing, hearing nothing, just there, just held. Well, that's the way of emptiness in the most Catholic possible way. But it's the same place in ourselves. It's the same thing. Now, if we return to our scheme of the persons of the Trinity, this is the prayer which somehow is most closely and simply related to the Father, who is the invisible God. This is, as it were, resting in the root, resting in the source, at the same time resting in the fullness of the invisible God. There's a 4th way which I'd like to add to this and which I'll put on the bottom of the diagram so that it becomes a kind of diamond. Excuse me. And that is what I would call the way of life. If, in entering into this emptiness, into this silence, we've really gotten into a deep point, then we've got to a center


which will influence all of our lives. So, how do we solve the problem, actually, of praying all the time? You know, St. Paul says somewhere, pray always, doesn't he? And I think Jesus says something like that, too, in the Gospel in St. Luke somewhere. And the early monks made quite an effort out of that. They devised all kinds of ways of praying all the time. There's one of them who slept about two hours a night. He said, if you're a real fighter, a real man of prayer, you don't need more than that. Then they had other ones who would pray in relays, okay? So, some of them would... We still have perpetual adoration in some monasteries, which is doing the same thing in another way. Because they wanted to correspond to what the Lord had asked of them. Other people evolved what they called the Jesus Prayer, in which they'd say the name of Jesus with a short phrase like, Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. Or as Cassian would put it, O God, come to my assistance, O Lord, make haste to help me. That's the first verse of a psalm. And for him, that was the continual prayer, the mantra. They'd repeat that so much that it became automatic.


And when they'd wake up at night, they'd find themselves praying it. That was their way of approaching continual prayer. And yet they were never really absolutely able to do it, were they? Because we have our limitations, because we've always got to sleep, we've always got to work, and so on. I think the solution lies in another direction, which the monks were approaching in their own way, but not in that literal way, but rather getting to that point within us of presence, of stillness, and then finding a way to relate everything that we do in our life to it. So the way of life, or the way of activity, would be the way of coming from that deep point of stillness to the surface, to whatever we have to do during the day, and somehow binding the two together, and putting ourselves in such a mood, in such an attitude, that naturally and spontaneously we're drawn back to that center whenever we're free. That's kind of the key. You know, where do we go when we're free? Where does our heart and our mind go when nothing else is pulling us outside, when we have no constraint, when we have no pressure


to be elsewhere, when there's nothing demanding our attention? Does it go back to that center or does it go somewhere else? So obviously there's a lot of discipline connected with that. We can't expect to perfect it immediately. But within those four ways, those four poles, that little diamond, I think our life is contained, just as our life is embraced by the persons of the Holy Trinity and what God has created, which is the world. And that corresponds to the bottom point on our little diagram there. Diagrams are helpful, but we have to be able to put them away when they've served their purpose. What I would like to say is that we need all of these ways. We need all four of them, not just one way of prayer. We need to be able to move between them. We need to learn them all and to be able to use them at appropriate times, which means that we have to be like a ball, as it were, which always finds itself upright, which always is able to find itself in the presence of God, no matter what the situation, no matter what the condition. I think, excuse me,


in a larger sense, there's another lesson that the doctrine of the Holy Trinity can teach us, and that is the pluralism of Christianity and also of Catholicism. It's something that's coming to us again, fortunately, in the time of Vatican II, in our own time, that the Church is not just one way. If Jesus chose twelve apostles, it was like choosing twelve different faces for himself, like choosing twelve different voices in which to speak, like choosing twelve rivers, twelve channels along which to propagate his message. In other words, there are many ways of being a Christian, there are many ways of being a Catholic, there are many tendencies within the Church which are legitimate. There are different ways of life, different opinions, different even forms of belief within Catholicism, which are supposed to be there. In other words, we don't have to amputate one and absolutize the other one. We don't have to say this is the only way of thinking. There are people in the Church who are good Catholics on one side and the other and don't and never will understand one another,


but they're both right. But if they say that the other is wrong, then they're in trouble. The pluralism of Christianity. Now, it's based in this doctrine of the Trinity. It's based, for instance, in this fact that we live, as it were, within a quaternity, and that there are people who, for instance, will have to move very swiftly at the vanguard of history, because that's what God is calling them to. St. Paul is typical, okay? There are other people, equally good Christians, who are not called to do that, but are called to hang on to and conserve what has been handed down. Take James and Paul, for example, okay? Paul is way out there, moving ahead. The law is not important for him anymore. He wants Christians to live in the Holy Spirit and to put, as it were, Judaism, Israel behind them. Whereas James, for us, as he comes down to tradition, stands as the man of the law whose religion, basically, is a Jewish religion which has become Christian, and which is still the religion of good works


of the Old Testament, basically. That kind of relationship with God. Well, by golly, they're both right. If they start persecuting one another, then the whole thing explodes. But they've both got a right to existence in the Church, and we find both of them existing right in our own time. In other words, in the right and the left of the Church. Of course, there's a right-right and a wrong-right, too, and a right-left and a wrong-left, in the sense that there are wild and non-Christian ways of being at either of those points. But the pluralism is extremely important. To be able, in good faith, to tolerate different ways of being Christian. And that's the dynamism. That's the very pulse of the Church. That's the only way that Christianity can move ahead and not be a dead thing. It's not a monolithic structure. Sometimes that image of the temple of God doesn't serve us well, because it's not living. It's better to think of it as the body, I think. And as St. Paul says, within the body there are different charisms, different understandings, and different directions that people move in within the one group movement. And, for instance, you've got people who are called


to be extremely active and extremely realistic, and you've got other people who are called to live like John on the level of the heavenly Word, to live very close to their contemplative core. You've got people who are called to be very immersed in activity and who really can't spend most of their time in that other world, and people who are supposed to do it, because God, as it were, wants everything in His gift represented. He wants the left and the right and the top and the bottom all represented. And so one person is called to represent this and another to represent that. That's what different vocations mean. It's something we only gradually get used to because it scares us for a long time. But in our time we are given the opportunity, once again, of finding that kind of Christianity, that kind of Catholicism. And that's really living. Look at the apostles and look at the differences and even the tensions between those apostles, between Paul and James, between Peter and John, let us say, and you'll realize that. Well, I've probably gone long enough.


Maybe we could break for a little while and then come back and see if there are any questions or discussion and maybe go on a little longer. I think we have to, what? Twelve fifteen? Okay. Okay. Okay, I think we have to, what? Twelve fifteen.