Lately I've been slowly reading Contemplative Prayer by Thomas Merton. I say slowly because it isn't a book to skim or at the clip of novels (well-written ones, at least), which seem to have leashes in the pages drawing me at their pace ever onward to the crisis, the monumental moment, the ending. These are books that keep me up so late at night that when I turn to look at the clock I'm startled to see that it's 2 AM, or ones that keep me from daily work until Beve calls and asks what I've been doing all day, and I can't think of a thing to tell him that hasn't been in a world not my own. I love stories, of course. Cut my eye-teeth on them. Sharpened a plethora of pencils creating my own as well--for as long as I can remember.
But there are also the other kind of books that are not made for getting to the ending. I wouldn't dare race through them for fear of losing the meat along the way. I read such things with paper and pen beside me. And the highlighter on my Kindle at the ready so I can find the chewing places later. That's what I do: I chew on certain presented ideas like I really am a cow with double stomachs. Or perhaps a Christ-one with two ways of thinking about things--my selfish self and my Spirit-filled self. These aren't really two selves, of course. A better way of saying this, perhaps, is that sometimes it takes a while before the soil of my flesh is soft enough that what He plants has a chance of taking root and growing.
Such books as Contemplative Prayer has a whole lot of seeds ready to be planted within. It's not for everyone, I suppose. Years ago, through study and confirmation by people around me, it became clear to me that I'm a contemplative. Probably in a different time, a different space, I might have cloistered myself and devoted myself entirely to prayer. This is not a popular possibility to most people, but I can somehow imagine it--not that I have for an instant regretted my life as it's been lived.
In the introduction to this book--before Thomas Merton's voice is heard for an instant--there is this sentence, written by his friend, Douglas V Steere.
"If, as Thomas Merton observes on his opening page, 'the monastic life is above all a life of prayer,' then personal prayer which involves a growing involvement of the whole powers of the one who prays becomes a decisive affair. It is not enough to have left Egypt. Monastics are called upon to enter the promised land and entry means not with the feet alone but with the heart. Stopping too soon is the commonest dead-end street in prayer."
I have have been chewing on these words for the last week. First of all, I don't believe it's only monastics who are called to a life of prayer. Let's start with that. Each of us is called to such a life. I am. You are. Whatever else you are called to DO, you are called to do it as a prayer-ful person, a person who relates personally to God. I am struck by the words 'whole powers of the one who prays' because I think of how weak our prayers are. I'm sure you know what I mean. Jesus Himself talked of this when He said we do not have because we do not ask. The power of God is behind our prayer--that is the 'whole powers' to which Steere refers here. Whatever we ask, in the Name of Jesus, it will be done. In His Name, by His Will, by faith believing, in earnest thankfulness...I could probably go on for an hour writing such phrases, straight from the New Testament.
But what really gets me, what stops me on a dime and makes me remember in all the awe and trembling God intends, is the last sentence. "Stopping too soon is the commonest dead-end street in prayer."
I hardly know how to write this, hardly want to. But I am guilty of this 'stopping too soon.' I am. I say my prayers. I'm fairly good at it. I think that's because I'm a talker. But here's the bald and awful truth. I don't do a very good job waiting for Him to answer. I get up from my couch or beside my bed, practically checking that off my list of tasks to be done. But it's like I stayed on the far side of the Jordan, to use Steere's analogy. I don't sit there and wait for Him to speak back. Or simply to show up. I don't cross into the promised land. Not often enough, anyway. Sometimes I've even stepped into the river, and decided that was the promised land.
Ridiculous. There is more. That's the point, I think. He tells us so in scripture. He wants to show up. One way or another. He wants to be part of our conversations with Him. He wants it to be a dialogue. That's the point. At least I've been thinking it is. He's here and He is not silent. So why do I act as if He is?
I don't know what His showing up might mean practically for you. I know what it means for me. It's happened often enough that I recognize Him when He comes. An impression, an understanding of scripture or simply a person on my heart who was unlikely to be there. An answer. Yes, an answer! A sense of peace or joy or calm or strength when nothing in my situation could possibly bring such responses. Or simply a rustling in the room. And then I not only 'feel' Him, but I know Him. With mind and heart and body and strength. The promised land. This might sound a little too...mystical, I suppose. But He isn't. He's as real as you or I. He's right here and He is not silent. He wants to show up.
What about you? Do you wait and listen when you pray?