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Change Unceasing Thought to Unceasing Prayer
The following passages are taken from Father Henri J.M. Nouwen’s book “Clowning in Rome,” published in 1979.
1. INTRODUCTION (57-61)
When we think about prayer, we usually regard it as one of the many things we are supposed to do to live a full and mature Christian life. We say to ourselves or to each other, ‘Don’t forget to pray, because prayer is important and without it our lives will be shallow. We need to give our time not only to people, but to God as well!” When we are especially motivated in our conviction that prayer is important, we might even be willing to give a whole hour to prayer every day, or a whole day every month, or a whole week every year. And because of all this, prayer becomes a part, and even a very important part of our lives.
But when the apostle Paul speaks about prayer, he uses a very different language. He does not speak about prayer as a part of life, but as all of life. He does not mention prayer as something we should not forget, but rather he claims it is our ongoing concern. He does not exhort his readers to pray once in a while, regularly, or often, but without shame he admonishes them to pray constantly, unceasingly, and without interruption. Paul does not ask us to spend some of every day in prayer. No, Paul is much more radical. He asks us to pray day and night, in joy and in sorrow, at work and at play, without intermissions or breaks. For Paul, praying is like breathing. It cannot be interrupted without mortal danger.
To the Christians in Thessalonica Paul writes: “Pray constantly, and for all things give thanks to God, because this is what God expects you to do in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:17—18). Paul not only demands unceasing prayer but also he practices it. “We constantly thank God for you” (1 Thessalonians 2:13), he says to his community in Greece. “We feel we must be continually thanking God for you” (2 Thessalonians 1:3). “We pray continually that our God will make you worthy of his call” (2 Thessalonians 1:11). To the Romans he writes: “I never fail to mention you in my prayers” (Romans. 1:9). He also comforts his friend Timothy with the words: “Always I remember you in my prayers” (2 Timothy 1:3).
The two Greek terms that appear repeatedly in Paul’s letters are pantote (always) and adialeiptos (without interruption). These words make it clear that for Paul, prayer is not just a part of living, but all of living not only a part of his thought, but all of his thought not a part of his emotions and feelings, but all of them. Paul’s passion allows no room for partial commitments, piecemeal caring, or hesitant generosity. He gives all and asks all.
This radical approach to life obviously raises some difficult questions. What is he talking about? What does he mean by “To pray without ceasing”? How can we possibly live our already demanding and stressful lives as uninterrupted prayer? What does one do about the endless distractions that constantly intrude on us? Moreover, how are we expected to pray when we are asleep or taking some needed moments of diversion? Can these few hours we use to escape from the tensions and conflicts of life be lifted up into some kind of prayer? These questions are real, and have puzzled many of us on our spiritual journey because we really wanted to take seriously Paul’s exhortation to “pray without ceasing.”
One of the best known examples of the desire for continuous prayer is the story of the nineteenth-century Russian peasant who wanted so much to be obedient to Paul’s call for uninterrupted prayer that he went to the desert to find a staretz, a holy person dedicated to an austere life of prayer and sacrifice. He counseled with one, then with another and another, looking for an answer. Finally he found a holy man who taught him the Jesus Prayer. The holy man told the peasant to say thousands of times each day, Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” The peasant found that by doing this, the Jesus Prayer slowly became united with his breathing and heartbeat. He then traveled through Russia carrying his knapsack with the Bible, the Philokatia, and some bread and salt, living a life of unceasing prayer. Although we are not nineteenth-century Russian peasants with a similar wanderlust, we still share the question of this simple peasant: “How do we pray without ceasing?”
I would like to respond to this question not in the con text of the wide, silent Russian steppes of the nineteenth century, but in the context of the restlessness of our con temporary Western society. I want to deepen the call to see unceasing prayer as the conversion of our unceasing thought processes. My central question, therefore, is ‘How can we turn our perpetual mental activities into perpetual prayer?” or, to express it more simply, “How can thinking become praying?”
First I will invite you to ponder how our unceasing thinking is a source of our joy as well as of our pain. Then I want you to recognize how this unceasing thinking has the potential to be turned into an uninterrupted conversation with God. Finally I will ask to explore how to develop a discipline that will promote this ongoing conversion from thought to conversation with God. In this way, I hope that unceasing communion with God in prayer can be removed from the sphere of romantic sentimentalism and become a realistic possibility for our demanding lives in a demanding world.
2. UNCEASING THOUGHTS
a. Thinking reeds (61-65)
Lately I have been wondering if we ever do not think. It seems to me that we are always involved in some kind of thought process and that being without thoughts is not a real human option. When Blaise Pascal calls a human being a roseau pensant (thinking reed), he is trying to explain how our ability to think constitutes our humanity and sets us apart from all other created beings. All our emotions, passions, and feelings are intimately connected with our thoughts so that we can safely say that our thoughts form the cradle in which our joys as well as our sorrows are born. The words thoughts and thinking are used here in a very broad sense and include different mental processes. When we look at these processes it appears that whether we like it or not, we are involved in, or subjected to, unceasing thoughts.
One of the forms of thinking with which we are most familiar, but which represents only a small part of our mental processes, is reflective thinking. Reflection is a conscious bending back over events and the ideas, images, and emotions connected with these events. It requires the application of our willpower in a concentrated effort it calls for discipline, endurance, patience, and much mental energy. Those who study a great deal know how hard systematic reflection is and how it can wear us down and even exhaust us. Reflection is real work and does not come easily.
But not reflecting does not mean not thinking. We quite often find ourselves thinking without even realizing that that is what we are doing.
You might be walking through the streets of Rome and find yourself thinking about your hometown, your parents, your brothers and sisters, and then you realize that you had not
planned to think about them at all. Or you might suddenly discover that you are thinking about pasta and wine, or about having a lot of money to give away, or about sex, or about what you would say [ the President of the United States gave you a phone call. In Rome you might be wondering what name you would choose f they elected you Pope, or what you would say or not say about your faith f you were tortured with electric shock, or about who would cry f you jumped from the fifth floor of the
American College. You might be dreaming about how you would act f you happened to be married or ordained or a parent. . . and on and on. You never planned to think about these things nor had you even wanted to think about them, but you catch your mind in midstream and realize that you are moving into a complex net work of ideas, images, and feelings.
This passive, pre-reflective thinking is sometimes disturbing, and we wonder where it comes from. Occasionally it makes us anxious or apprehensive. We realize that our mind thinks things that we cannot control, things that sneak up on us, coming from nowhere to interfere with our best intentions. During the most solemn moments we may find ourselves thinking the most banal thoughts. While listening to a sermon about God’s love, we find ourselves wondering about the haircut of the preacher. While reading a spiritual book, we suddenly realize that our mind is busy with the questions about what’s for dinner or the letters we haven’t written or the painful telephone call that must be made. While watching a beautiful ceremony at Church we notice ourselves trying to figure out how to relate with teenage sons and daughters, to ask for a raise at work, or to reduce the tension between ourselves and our spouses. Indeed, not infrequently we catch ourselves thinking very low things during very high moments. The problem, however, is that we cannot think about nothing. We have to think, and we often feel betrayed by our own uncontrolled or uncontrollable thoughts.
Our thought processes, by reaching even into our sleeping hours, go even deeper than our reflective moments and our uncontrolled mental wanderings. We might wake up in the middle of the night and find our selves part of a frightening car race, a delicious banquet, or a heavenly choir. Sometimes we are able to give a detailed account of all the things that happened to us in our dreams: what we heard as well as what we said. Sometimes we remember only the final moment of our dream, and some times we are left with only a vague fear or an undefined joy. We know that much is going on during our sleep, of which, only occasionally, we catch bits and pieces. Careful brainwave studies show that our minds are always active during sleep, we are always dreaming even when we have no recollection of our dream or their content. And, although we tend to regard our dream processes as insignificant in comparison with our daytime reflections or our undirected mental wanderings, we should not forget that for many people dreams prove to be the main source of knowing. Remember the patriarch Jacob who heard God’s call when he saw the angels going up and down a ladder? Also, in the Old Testament Joseph was banished to Egypt because he irritated his brothers with his visions of sheaves, sun, moon, and stars bowing to him. And in the New Testament Joseph fled to Egypt with Mary and the child, after he had seen in his dream, an angel warning him of Herod. In our century, so far from biblical times, we find Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung informing us that our dreams will tell us our
b. Source of joy and sorrow
I say all this to reiterate how we are indeed involved in unceasing thought day and night, willingly or unwillingly, during our most alert moments and during our deepest sleep, while working and while resting. This is our human predicament, a predicament that causes us great joy and immense pain. Our ceaseless thought is our burden as well as our gift, and sometimes we might wish to be able to stop thinking for a while. Perhaps if that were possible we would not be haunted by the memory of lost friends, or the awareness of past breakages with those we love, or by our knowledge and sense of helplessness when confronted by hunger and oppression in our world. These thoughts impose themselves on us at the most unwelcome hours, and they can keep us awake when we are most in need of sleep. We yearn to be free of ceaseless thinking so as to erase the disturbing graffiti etched on our minds. But there is another side. Without thought there would be no smile, no laughter, no quiet joy. How could we be glad to see friends again when we are unable to think of them? How could we celebrate a birthday, a national holiday, or a great religious feast if our minds were not aware of the meaning of the event? How could we be grateful if we couldn’t remember the gifts we have received? How would it be possible to lift up our hearts and sing and dance without the connections that our thoughts are constantly making for us?
Our thoughts form the cradle where sorrow and joy are held. With an empty mind our hearts would not mourn or feast, our eyes would not cry or laugh, our hands would not wring or clap, our tongues would not curse or praise. Thus, as “thinking reeds,” we are also enabled to feel deeply and experience life to the full with all its many sorrows and joys. All that remains is that this unceasing activity at the core of our minds and beings must gradually be transformed, slowly, slowly, but persistently, into unceasing communion with God.
3. UNCEASING PRAYER
a. In dialogue (66-70)
To pray unceasingly, as Paul asks us to do, would be completely impossible if it meant to think constantly about God, not only for people who have many different concerns to occupy their minds but also for monks who spend many hours a day in prayer. Thinking about God all the time is an unrealistic expectation that might cause mental imbalance.
To be continually in communion with God does not mean thinking about God in contrast to thinking about other things, nor does it mean spending time with God instead of spending time with other people. As soon as we begin to divide off our thoughts into thoughts about God and thoughts about other things like people and events, we separate God from our daily life. At that point God is allocated to a pious little niche in some corner of our lives where we only think pious thoughts and experience pious feelings. Although it is important and even indispensable for our spiritual lives to set apart time for God and God alone, our prayer can only become unceasing communion when all our thoughts---beautiful or ugly, high or low, proud or shameful, sorrowful or joyful---can be thought in the presence of the One who dwells in us and surrounds us. By trying to do this, our unceasing thinking is converted into unceasing prayer moving us from a self-centered monologue to a God-centered dialogue. To do this we want to try to convert our thoughts into conversation. The main question, therefore, is not so much what we think, but to whom we present our thoughts, because to pray unceasingly means to think and live in the presence of Love.
It is not hard to see how real a change takes place in our daily life when we find the courage to keep our thoughts to ourselves no longer, but to speak out, confess them, share them, bring them into conversation. As soon as an embarrassing or exhilarating idea is taken out of its isolation and brought into a relationship with someone, something totally new happens. Doing so obviously requires much courage and trust, precisely because we are not always sure how our thoughts will be received. But as soon as we have taken the risk and experience acceptance, our thoughts them selves receive a new quality.
To pray unceasingly is to channel our thoughts out of their fearful isolation into a fearless conversation with God. Jesus’ life was a life lived in the presence of the Father, whom he loved. Jesus kept nothing, absolutely nothing, hidden from his Father. Jesus’ joys, his fears, his hopes, and his despairs were always shared in communion with his Father. Therefore, Jesus could indeed say to his disciples: “. . .you will be scattered. . . leaving me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me” (John 16:32). Thus prayer asks us to break out of our monologue with ourselves and to imitate Jesus by turning our lives into an unceasing conversation with the One we call God.
Prayer, therefore, is not introspection. Introspection means to look inward, to enter into the complex network of our mental processes in search of some inner logic or some elucidating connections. Introspection results from the desire to know ourselves better and to become more familiar with our own interiority. Although introspection has a positive role in our thought processes, there is a danger that it may entangle us in a labyrinth of our own ideas, feelings, and emotions and lead us to an increasing self- preoccupation. Introspection often causes paralyzing worries or unproductive self-gratification. Introspection has the potential to create moodiness, and this moodiness is a very widespread phenomenon in our society. It betrays our great concern with ourselves and our undue sensitivity to all our thoughts and feelings. It leads us to experience life as a constant fluctuation between “feeling high” and “feeling low,” between “good days” and “bad days,” and thus becomes a form of narcissism.
Prayer is not introspection. It is not a scrupulous, inward-looking analysis of our own thoughts and feelings but it is an attentiveness to the Presence of Love personified inviting us to an encounter. Prayer is the presentation of our thoughts—--reflective, as well as daydreams, and night dreams—--to the One who receives them, sees them in the light of unconditional love, and responds to them with divine compassion. This context of thinking in the Presence, of conversation and dialogue with Love is the joyful affirmation of our gentle Companion on the journey with God who knows our minds and hearts, our goodness and our beauty, our darkness and our light. The Psalmist prays the prayer for us in Psalm 1 39:
O Lord, you search me and you know me,
you know my resting and my rising,
you discern my purpose from afar.
You mark when I walk or lie down,
all my ways lie open to you (1-3)
O search me, God, and know my heart.
O test me and know my thoughts.
See that I follow not the wrong path
and lead me in the path of life eternal. (23-24)
The movement from thinking random thoughts to living in communion with Love is a radical conversion of our mental processes. Gradually we move away from ourselves---our worries, preoccupations, and self-gratifications---and we direct all that we recognize as ours to the One who loves us, trusting that through love all will be made new.
b. Unexpected idolatries (70-72)
But this conversion from unceasing thought to unceasing prayer is very slow and far from easy. There is a deep resistance to allowing ourselves to become so vulnerable, so naked, and so totally unprotected. There is no question about our desire to love God. We want to be men and women who love and worship God, but we also want to protect a little corner of our inner lives for ourselves. We cling to a protected space where we might sometimes hide out with our own secret thoughts, our dreams and fantasies, and our play with our own mental fabrications. When we begin to think about living and thinking always in God’s loving presence we experience the immediate temptation to select carefully the thoughts that we bring into our conversations with God and the ones we reserve for our own private time.
What makes us so frightened and stingy? Maybe we wonder if God can handle all that goes on in our minds and hearts. Is God up to accepting our hateful thoughts, our cruel fantasies, and our shameful dreams? Can our compassionate Brother handle our primitive images, our inflated illusions, and our exotic mental castles? Or do we want to hold onto our own pleasurable imaginings and stimulating reveries, afraid that in showing them to our Lord, we may have to give them up? We shuffle forward and backward, desiring intimate communion and seduced to selfish introspection. Fear mixes with our yearnings and greed with our generosity, and we gradually become aware of how much those secret meanderings are most in need of Love’s healing touch.
This withholding from God of a large part of our thoughts leads us onto a road that we probably would never consciously want to take. It is the road of idolatry. Idolatry means the worship of false images, and that is precisely what happens when we keep our fantasies, worries, and joys to ourselves and do not present them to the Lord of our hearts. By refusing to share these thoughts, we limit our own healing, erecting little altars to the mental images we are withholding from the divine conversation.
I vividly remember how I once visited a psychiatrist to com plain about my d in controlling my fantasy life. I told him that disturbing images kept coming up and that I found it hard to detach myself from them. When he had listened to my story, he smiled and said, “Well, Father, as a priest you should know that this is idolatry, because your God is saying that you should not worship false images.” Only then did I realize fully what it really means to confess having sinned not only in word and action but also in thought. It means confessing idolatry, one of the oldest and most pervasive temptations.
So let me reiterate how unceasing communion is not immediately available to us, precisely because we like to hold onto certain aspects of our inner life for ourselves alone. This experience of resistance to generously entrusting ourselves to Love personified is very real and very ingrained. Unceasing prayer is a true, bitter, and ongoing struggle against idolatry. When all our thoughts--—those of our days as well as those of our nights--—have been brought into a loving conversation with God, then we know obedience in its fullness. And since this is obviously a task that is never fully completed, we need to raise another question: the question of discipline. I realize that discipline is not a very popular word, but it comes from the word disciple, and somehow we must try to view it with new eyes. So we ask; What disciplines or practices help us to become followers and disciples of Love? What must we do to give ourselves totally into the hands of our Way, our Truth, and our Life?
a. Imagining Christ (73-76)
Because of the many resistances to the conversion of our unceasing thought into unceasing communion, we need support. This is where “disciplines” come to the rescue. Without the help of certain disciplines, unceasing prayer remains a vague ideal, something that has perhaps a roman tic appeal but something that is not at all realistic in our contemporary world. Discipline implies that something very specific and concrete will need to be chosen to create a context or an environment in which a life of uninterrupted prayer is nurtured. Unceasing prayer is deeply nourished by the discipline of committed time for solitude and prayer. Setting aside a certain place and time each day to do nothing else but pray creates the context for unceasing thought to become unceasing prayer. Why is this planned prayer-practice so important? It is important because by dedicating ourselves to a specific time and place for nothing but our openness to God’s presence, we focus and wait in hope to welcome God’s Spirit as our partner in a dia logue of life and love.
This discipline of prayer embraces different ways of praying: communally and individually, as well as orally and silently. It is of primary importance that we enter our daily solitude with an understanding of its potential and with hope and expectation of being with God. We often say, “All of life should be lived in gratitude,” but this gratitude is only possible if at certain times we give thanks in a very concrete and visible way. We often say, ‘All our days should be lived for the glory of God,” but this is only possible if a day is regularly set apart to give glory to God. We often say, “We should love one another always,” but this is only possible if we regularly perform generous and unambiguous acts of love. Similarly, it is true that we can only say, “All our thoughts should be conversation and communion with God,” if there are times when we stop and allow God to be our only occupation and thought.
Beneath all our prayer, whether it be the celebrations in Church, or contemplative, is our effort to be open and attentive to the God we know from Scripture and experience. With this in mind, I would like to share in greater detail the importance and the implications of the discipline of what is known as contemplation. Contemplation is one of the sure roads to unceasing communion with the Beloved. Although many good things have been written about contemplation and contemplative prayer, most of us still hold onto the impression that contemplative prayer is something other-worldly, very special, very “high,” or very difficult, and really not for ordinary people like us with ordinary jobs and ordinary problems. This is sad and unfortunate, because the practice, or the discipline, of contemplative prayer is particularly precious and life-giving precisely for busy people like us who are so busy and fragmented. If it is true that each of us is called to the conversion of our thoughts into an ongoing conversation with our Lord, then contemplative prayer can be a discipline that puts us into position for radical transformation.
Contemplative prayer is truly quite simple and wonderful. Contemplation is about looking and waiting for God. It is about gazing at Jesus and at the Father. “How is this possible,” you might ask, “since nobody has ever seen God?”
We know that Jesus was sent by God into the world. This mystery, called the Incarnation, makes it possible for us to see the living God in and through Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Beloved Son of God. Jesus is God-in-the-flesh. In and through the life of Jesus, we are introduced to God as the loving Father of Jesus. By looking at and listening to Jesus, and by following him through the pages of Scripture, we are looking at, listening to, and following the One who is the image of God.
Jesus is the Son of the living God. When Jesus spoke to the disciples about God, Philip said impatiently, “Lord, let us see the Father, and then we shall be satisfied.” Jesus answered, “To have seen me is to have seen the Father, so how can you say, ‘Let us see the Father’? Do you not believe that lam in the Father and the Father is in me?” (John. 14:10).
Contemplative prayer, therefore, is to see Jesus Christ as the image of God. In contemplative prayer all our images of our God, conscious or unconscious will be shaped and formed by God’s Son, our living example, the only image of God. This is contemplation.
Contemplative prayer can be described as an imagining of God’s Son, Jesus, a letting him enter fully into our consciousness so that he becomes the icon always present in the inner room of our hearts. By gazing at Jesus, walking on the earth, we give him loving attention and we “see” with our minds and hearts how he is the way to the Father. Jesus’ life and work is an uninterrupted union with and contemplation of his Father. We, as followers of Jesus, try to enter into the same disposition. We welcome the discipline of contemplation, taking time regularly to enter into the life of Jesus to contemplate the incredible bond between Jesus and the Father. And we trust that in, through, and with Jesus, we too may live and bask in God’s unconditional love.
b. A simple example (76-80)
Practically, how do we contemplate Jesus? How do we enter into dialogue with him and allow our unceasing thought to be transformed into unceasing prayer? There is no single answer to this question, because each one of us is invited to develop a personal discipline of spending time with God, according to our particular life and work, our daily schedule, cultural heritage, and personality. The wonderful thing about discipline is how by its nature it will conform to the particular lifestyle of the individual who is seeking God. Discipline supports us in our desire to follow Jesus and experience communion with our beloved father. So, rather than give a further description of contemplative prayer, I will try to offer you one example of a contemplative prayer discipline. I do this in the hope that it might open some doors for you to try to discover your particular way of fidelity to a life where contemplation is central.
One very simple discipline is to read, every evening before going to sleep, the readings of the next day’s Eucharistic service with special attention to the Gospel. Be attentive to anything that touches you. You may find it helpful to take one sentence or word that corresponds to your experience or which offers you special comfort. Repeat the word or sentence a few times and let that one sentence or word open your heart to the whole content of the story or the message. Repeat the sentence or word and let the content slowly descend from your mind into your heart and center.
Personally, I have found this practice to be a powerful support in times of crisis. It is especially helpful during the night, when worries or anxieties keep me awake and seduce me into idolatry. By remembering the Gospel story or the saying of an Old or New Testament author, I enter into another realm, a safe, inner home where I am not alone with all my preoccupations. They are with me, but they are somehow transformed into quiet prayer. The Gospel story leads me to the inner sanctum.
During the following day, schedule a specific time for solitude and contemplation. It could be previously marked in your agenda planner. This is your commitment to look at Jesus as he appears in the reading. You do this by slowly rereading the Gospel of the day. Put yourself in the picture and try to imagine the Lord as he speaks or acts before you and the people. During this time-set-apart you look at Jesus, listen to him, touch him, and let him become present in your whole being.
In contemplative prayer we meet Jesus, our healer, our teacher, and our guide. We are present with him in his indignation, in his compassion, in his suffering, and in his glory. We walk with him, look at him, listen to him, and enter into conversation with him. Often the other readings of the day from the Old and New Testament intensify our experience and our image of Jesus. Vincent van Gogh once remarked that the Gospels are the top of the mountain and the other biblical writings form the slopes.
For me, this discipline of having an “empty time” just to be in communion with Jesus as he speaks to me, in the readings of the day, has proven very powerful. I have discovered that during the rest of the day, wherever I am or whatever I am doing, the image of Christ that I have contemplated during that “empty time” is in me as a beautiful icon. Sometimes it is the conscious center of my thoughts, but more often it is a quiet presence of which I am only indirectly aware. In the beginning I hardly noticed the difference. Slowly, however, I realized that I carry Jesus, the image of God, inside of me, and he works in me to transform my reflective thoughts as well as my frenzied ones and my daydreams. I am truly convinced that this simple form of daily contemplation is very gradually converting my dreams into the gateway of God’s ongoing, ever-loving, presence and revelation.
Finally, this discipline of taking into ourselves Jesus as revealed in the Gospel puts the celebration of daily Eucharist into a totally new perspective. Especially when it is celebrated in the evening, the Eucharist becomes a real climax in which the Lord with whom we have journeyed during the day meets us again and now speaks to us again as a community of believers. In the Eucharist, Jesus invites us with our friends to come and be with him around the table. It is a moment of incredible intimacy, and it is there that the transformation of all our images into his image finds its fullest realization. It is there at the “table of the Lord” that our communion with Jesus, experienced in contemplation, finds its perfection. Daily contemplation pre pares us for the daily transforming celebration of Eucharist. Because we are working on the practice of living the whole day in the presence of Love, the Eucharist ceases to be merely a routine or an obligation. It becomes instead the center of daily life, the moment of intimate communion with the Beloved.
One of my most joyful discoveries was how the experience of daily contemplative prayer uncovered for me the transforming power of the daily celebration of the Eucharist. The Eucharist becomes for me a deep experience of intimacy, a special moment
and a special place from which I draw light, strength, and hope. I have come to realize that our most private times of contemplation are not only good for us individually but are also, in the final analysis, a service to the whole community.
This simple discipline of prayer becomes a strong, supportive structure where our unceasing thought becomes unceasing communion with the Lord. In our contemplative prayer, Jesus is no longer a stranger who lived long ago in a foreign world. Rather, Jesus is for us a living presence to whom we can relate. We are in dialogue with the living God, here and now.
The contemplative practice I have described is only one of many possible examples. I offer it merely as a suggestion that points in the direction of a disciplined prayer life. The important thing is that we realize the beautiful Christian ideal of making our whole life into a prayer remains nothing but an ideal unless we are willing to work at it. If we choose certain supportive disciplines they lead us into the realm of great possibilities. We are choosing to do some thing to realize our deep desire for real intimacy and communion. Faithful to our daily practice, we gradually enter more and more consciously and explicitly into an encounter with Love Itself.
5. CONCLUSION (81-82)
I have tried to show that unceasing prayer is not the unusual feat of a simple Russian peasant but a realistic vocation for each one of us. It certainly is not a way of living that comes either automatically by our simply desiring it or easily by our just praying once in a while. But when we give it serious attention and develop an appropriate discipline, we experience real transformation in our lives that leads us closer and closer to God. Total communion with God as a permanent and unchangeable state of mind obviously will never be attained. We can only follow our desire and give it attention and discipline. In doing this we gradually become aware that many of the disturbing thoughts that seemed to distract us are being transformed into the ongoing praise of God. And as we begin to know God with increasing clarity and to appreciate God’s beauty, we also recognize how we are less distracted by people and things. On the contrary, God’s creation speaks to us in many ways about the One we contemplate. We slowly become conscious of the truth about our prayer that is neither more nor less than the constant practice of the presence of God at all times and in all places.
Paul’s words to the Christians of Thessalonica about unceasing prayer might at first have seemed demanding and unrealistic. And at first sight they are! But I hope we now see that they are also a source of ever-increasing joy. After all, it is not just Paul but also the divine Lover who invites us to let our whole life be transformed. That is why Paul could write: “Pray constantly, and for all things give thanks to God, because this is what God expects you to do in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
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