mad in pursuit journal

DISPATCHED FROM THE CROSSROADS, AT THE intersection OF spirit and flesh

Getting down with prayer

Sunday has been my day assigned to political ranting, but I'm sick of that so I might devote Sunday entries to spiritual matters for a while.

Ellen recommended checking out the Catholic Catechism, esp. Section IV on Prayer. I also checked out the Baltimore Catechism site — the old questions and answers we had to memorize in grade school. The one I found is dated 1941, so I don't know if that's in or out.

It feels half-assed to started jumping into the middle of catechism topics I haven't thought about in decades — but that has never stopped my poking around in Buddhism or other religions. I'm also doing this on the fly — it's not like I've been ruminating on this for days.

What the catechism says does have beauty but I have to admit that some of it escapes me.

Prayer as God's gift. "Prayer is the raising of one's mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God." But when we pray, do we speak from the height of our pride and will, or "out of the depths" of a humble and contrite heart? He who humbles himself will be exalted; humility is the foundation of prayer, Only when we humbly acknowledge that "we do not know how to pray as we ought," are we ready to receive freely the gift of prayer. "Man is a beggar before God."

Humility is good. Contrition is okay, as long as it doesn't become obsessive. I'm not sure how prayer is a gift from God. Isn't our ability to reflect part of our human consciousness, whether we believe in God or not? "Examine your conscience!" is a discipline my mother gave me — more practical than religious.

"Requesting good things from God" is the snare. "Why doesn't God answer my prayers?" becomes the big Religion 101 distraction. My response: "If there is a God, he does not run a Request Line. Get over it." (Okay, there's some research about group prayer curing people of illnesses — if that's true, it doesn't have anything to do with God listening and intervening.)

"If you knew the gift of God!" The wonder of prayer is revealed beside the well where we come seeking water: there, Christ comes to meet every human being. It is he who first seeks us and asks us for a drink. Jesus thirsts; his asking arises from the depths of God's desire for us. Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God's thirst with ours. God thirsts that we may thirst for him. "You would have asked him, and he would have given you living water." Paradoxically our prayer of petition is a response to the plea of the living God: "They have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewn out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water!" Prayer is the response of faith to the free promise of salvation and also a response of love to the thirst of the only Son of God.

This is beautiful but I'll have to think it over. Being able to live with paradox (ideas that appear contradictory) is a good skill to have, but... "God thirsting" is an image I'm unfamiliar with.

Prayer as covenant Where does prayer come from? Whether prayer is expressed in words or gestures, it is the whole man who prays. But in naming the source of prayer, Scripture speaks sometimes of the soul or the spirit, but most often of the heart (more than a thousand times). According to Scripture, it is the heart that prays. If our heart is far from God, the words of prayer are in vain.

The heart is the dwelling-place where I am, where I live; according to the Semitic or Biblical expression, the heart is the place "to which I withdraw." The heart is our hidden center, beyond the grasp of our reason and of others; only the Spirit of God can fathom the human heart and know it fully. The heart is the place of decision, deeper than our psychic drives. It is the place of truth, where we choose life or death. It is the place of encounter, because as image of God we live in relation: it is the place of covenant.

I like this section above.

Christian prayer is a covenant relationship between God and man in Christ. It is the action of God and of man, springing forth from both the Holy Spirit and ourselves, wholly directed to the Father, in union with the human will of the Son of God made man.

... and then it loses me by trying to jam in the Trinity.

Prayer as communion In the New Covenant, prayer is the living relationship of the children of God with their Father who is good beyond measure, with his Son Jesus Christ and with the Holy Spirit. The grace of the Kingdom is "the union of the entire holy and royal Trinity . . . with the whole human spirit." Thus, the life of prayer is the habit of being in the presence of the thrice-holy God and in communion with him. This communion of life is always possible because, through Baptism, we have already been united with Christ. Prayer is Christian insofar as it is communion with Christ and extends throughout the Church, which is his Body. Its dimensions are those of Christ's love.

Maybe my ultimate question is this: do you need God (and all the theological trappings) to partake in prayer and the "communion of life"? Is it enough to simply have an expansive view of your consciousness and its relationship to the rest of the universe?


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