Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Prayer and Presence

This morning as I rocked my daughter back to sleep - she woke up at 6:00ish because her brother was crying - I was reminded of a personal story St. Therese of Lisieux relates in her diary Story of a Soul. It seems that at one point after she entered the convent she had a difficult time staying awake during the long vigils and prayer services required of monastics. It upset her that she would often fall asleep in the midst of these services. One day, however, she realized that children are just as pleasing to their parents when they are asleep as when they are awake. Sometimes even more so because when the child sleeps all fussing ceases. A mother can then shower her little boy with kisses without him saying, "Ewww! Mom!" and pushing her away. I like to simply hold my daughter's hand or stroke her curly blond hair. After she came to this realization, St. Therese no longer felt guilty about falling asleep during prayer. Of course, she would never go into her prayer time with the intention of falling asleep; but if she happened to doze off, she wouldn't let that bother her. It was enough, she figured, that she was in the Presence of God and that she was focused on that presence.

The Servant of God, Catherine Doherty, speaks similarly of the "poustinik" in his solitude. In her book Poustinia, she speaks of how the poustinik is free to work at manual labor, read some spiritual text, sit quietly and listen to the sounds of nature, or simply lie down and sleep. This is so because all is done with an attentive and loving awareness of God's Presence. Sometimes it is enough simply to be in God's Presence without words. Indeed, these can be the moments when God is most able to fill us with His love, work in our hearts, heal us from our spiritual infirmities, etc. When we are simply with Him and lovingly attentive to Him without putting up a fuss over words, or making petitions, or whatever else, then we become more docile to His actions in our hearts and lives.

I may have mentioned this before, but I have a friend who is currently renting a room in a monastery. In the morning he takes his breakfast and coffee with him down to the chapel. There he simply sits in Christ's Presence in the Eucharist, quietly eating his breakfast and enjoying the Lord's company. What an ingenious use of one's prayer time! There is not always a need for words. Sometimes God just wants to be with us, and wants us to be with Him.

Another friend of mine, a father of two with a third on the way, observed how one's participation in Sunday Mass changes after one has children. With little ones to keep in order during Mass or Divine Liturgy a parent's participation is split between paying attention to the prayers and keeping their young ones in order. Attendance at Mass, he said, becomes more like a simple presence. You may not be able to pray all the prayers or even hear the homily, but at least you are there.

Perhaps those of us who have busy lives can learn something from all this. Perhaps it would be best if we kept our prayer rules short and simple. Stick to them, of course, but keep them simple. Don't get upset if you can't spend two or three hours a day in prayer. Rather, after you have completed your prayer rule, try to maintain this sense of loving awareness to God's Presence, and try to be docile to His workings within you just as a sleeping child is docile in his parents arms. Sometimes it helps to stop and take a very brief moment throughout the day just to re-focus yourself on God's Presence, and to simply be present to Him.

May heaven consume us.

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