The Way of BeautyPersonal Prayer

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"I'm not a religious person, but I am a spiritual person." So goes a common protestation among young and old alike.  Their spirituality has little or nothing to do with organized religion.  It makes no burdensome demands. It suits their lifestyle preferences in a kind of creative spirituality.  

The search for the Transcendent is one of the great thirsts of our age.  Psalm 63:1 puts it this way.  "O God, you are my God, I am seeking you, I am thirsting for you. I am like a parched land, lifeless and without water."  The late Marianist spiritual director, Father Thomas Dubay, S.M., comments on each phrase:

–  The universal I: All of us are voraciously thirsty for the infinite and unending.  This includes everyone, the religious and irreligious, the rich and poor, learned and unlearned.

–  "For you are my God:" we all want endless life,  endless delight and pleasure, a life only God can fill.

–  Dostoyevsky once observed that 'everyone kneels before something, either the real God or an idol.  To live without God is a torture.'  

–  "My soul thirsts for you."  Plants and animals get thirsty, but they cannot thirst for God.  Only a spirit in the flesh can thirst for God. This Living Water is the only kind of refreshment that satisfies one's parched tongue. 

Prayer in the Catholic Tradition

Perhaps our religious education has taught us about Jesus Christ but not about encountering him in personal prayer.  Before all else, the Catholic faith is a relationship with Jesus Christ, Living Water that quenches all thirst.  He invites everyone to be his companion and, in the process, to become his disciple.  And then like those first followers, to go out to our world where "Christ plays in ten-thousand places."

Personal Prayer

Friendship with the Lord is far more important than any other.  To cultivate a close relationship, it's essential to spend time alone with him in personal prayer, the time when Jesus transforms us from self-centered individuals into his friends, his companions, and his disciples.

Personal prayer is familial conversation with God. Jesus tells us how to pray:  close the door, do it in secret, and pray in a few words (Mt 6:5-6; 7-13).  A good place to start is the verse in the Johannine Gospel (6:68):  "Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life," in the Matthean Gospel (11:28): "Come to me, all you who labor and are weary, and I will give you rest. . . ."  

Some Considerations

Honesty in prayer is all that is needed. In a metaphorical sense, we stand naked before God to make all our needs known.  Nothing is held back.  Our physical and emotional needs are brought to prayer, our fantasies, our memories and imaginations, fear of failure, fear of commitment, fear of being betrayed, unfairness and injustice to me and in the world, being passed over, feeling minimized.  If we are serious about friendship with the Lord in prayer, we will allow Divine Providence to guide our lives and even to re-arrange them.  

Prayer is the spiritual power of our active lives, for Jesus tells us: "I am the vine, you are the branches.  If you remain in me, and I in you, you will bear much fruit. But apart from me, you can do nothing" (Jn 15:5).  

Mothers and fathers with constant demands of family life cannot be expected to spend long periods of time in prayer.  Whenever possible, they must seize those moments-and they are moments-when short prayers become gems of prayer.  They may express relief, thanksgiving for a favor received, or help at that moment to restrain our tempers. In prayer, God will tell us how to begin.  God will teach us how to pray.   

Muslims pray five times a day: 'Allah is great, there is none greater.' Their devotion edifies those of us who may protest that there is little or no time during the day for prayer.  

Priests and those in consecrated life should be able to arrange their time for prolonged periods of prayer in addition to spiritual reading, praying The Liturgy of the Hours and the daily examen.  The monastic vocation is largely one of spending long hours in personal and liturgical prayer.

More in The Way of Beauty

Jesus withdrew from the crowds and spent long hours in prayer with his Father. He prayed before making a decision, after apostolic work, in Gethsemane and on the cross. 

Other Considerations

"My work is my prayer" holds true if there is also prayer which is not work.  It is unrealistic to expect our lives to become one ceaseless act of prayer unless there are also regular times when worldly occupations are laid to one side to remain with God alone.   If we do not find God in prayer, we most assuredly will not find God in others, in our work, and in the unexpected events that befall us.  Prayer is the soul of any true spirituality.  

Praying with the silent music of chant in the background may help one to pray, but most music tends to distract and call attention to itself. 

"The Great Exchange"

As one progresses from meditation to deeper prayer, the individual speaks less and listens more.  God will communicate to the individual through delicate promptings meant only for the one at prayer. Below, readers will find some scripture passages Father Dubay recommended for prayer in what he liked to call "The Great Exchange:"

Prayer transforms us into godly people. This is expressed in Ezechiel 16:14ff: "You were exceedingly beautiful with the dignity of a queen; you were renowned among the nations for your beauty perfect as it was because of my splendor which I had bestowed on you, says the Lord  God. They were crude and rude; you were renowned for your beauty because of my splendor which I bestowed on you."  

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This people were transformed by God.  God gives a splendor that we cannot achieve ourselves except through prayer in which we are called to perfect beauty.

God's beauty is what we reflect, expressed in  2 Corinthians 3:18:  "We, with our unveiled faces reflecting like a mirror the brightness of the Lord, all grow brighter and brighter as we are turned into the image that we reflect; this is the work of the Lord who is Spirit."  We are transformed from one glory to another, i.e., in the transforming union beautifully expressed by St. Gregory of Nyssa in his Life of Moses.

We are pinnacles of God's creation expressed in Ephesians 2:10:  "We are God's work of art created in Christ Jesus to live the good life as from the beginning He meant us to live it." 

Finally, in Ephesians 3:20, we read: "He whose power is at work in us is powerful and more than powerful to carry out his purpose beyond all our hopes and dreams."

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