More Reflections on Prayer 2013

Click here for previous post related to this Sunday's Gospel.

“I will watch for you before dawn, that I may see your strength, O Lord.”

Monastics are always watching for God before dawn. Impressive and maybe true when I have sleepless nights, and on the hot and humid nights of summer, but I'm not an early morning person in the winter. I remember reading a book some years ago called Who We Are Is How We Pray, so I guess the Lord won't mind too much if I'm a little late getting started, and what about the sleeping life and dreams- isn't that a kind of prayer too ?

St. Benedict set down his Rule for the monastic order in the 6th century, These days morning Vigils take place around 5:30 or 6 am. 

The short daily meditation from Taize posits that the essence of prayer never changes, yet it can take on a host of different expressions. 
There are people who pray in a great silence. Others need many words. 
Saint Theresa of Avila wrote, “When I speak to the Lord, often I do not know what I am saying.” (Yep, that's more like it in my experience !)

Others find heaven’s joy on earth, a fulfillment, in prayer together with other people.

The truth is I make use of all these at different times !  

Some other expressions of prayer are interesting .......

"Prayer is exhaling the spirit of man and inhaling the spirit of God."
Edwin Keith

"Prayer is an act of love, words are not needed. Even if sickness distracts thoughts, all that is needed is the will to love."
St. Teresa of Avila

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From Revelations of Divine Love Julian of Norwich 14th Century.

"And he showed me more, a little thing, the size of a hazelnut, on the palm of my hand, round like a ball. I looked at it thoughtfully and wondered, ‘What is this?’ And the answer came, ‘It is all that is made.’ I marveled that it continued to exist and did not suddenly disintegrate; it was so small. And my mind supplied the answer, ‘It exists, both now and for ever, because God loves it.’ In short, everything owes its existence to the love of God. In this ‘little thing’ I saw three truths. The first is that God made it; the second is that God loves it; and the third is that God sustains it."

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Lord for tomorrow and its needs I do not pray... well I do pray for tomorrow but this prayer is for those days when I wonder if I can even make it through the next hour, never mind the next day; for the times when I am beset with useless fretting and frustration, of things that need doing , things undone, things gone wrong...

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The Benedictine monk David Steindl - Rast has featured many times on my blog and these passages are taken from his book “The Music of Silence : A Journey Through The Hours Of The Day : Vigils, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline, from the darkness of morning through the light of day and on into the dark of night.
In the introduction to the book, Kathleen Norris says monks pay close attention to the "flow of hours around them."

The monastic understanding of the word "hour" goes back to the Greek word hora. It's a word much older than the notion of a 24-hour day. "It is not a numerical measure: it is a soul measure."
Sometimes we need reminding that "everything we do is prayer." That prayer "is not sending an order and expecting it to be fulfilled. Prayer is attuning yourself to the life of the world, to love, the force that moves the sun and the moon and the stars." 

Click here for a useful article related to the book for anyone who keeps a writing  journal and it also explains how each of the hours or seasons of the day in The Music of Silence has an angel associated with it. As Brother David says, "We meet an angel whenever a life-giving message touches a human heart". What better way to express the surprise visits by messengers that can appear in the midst of a busy day. "We need only look through the rushing waters to the stillness in its depth."

The extract below is taken from an interview with David Steindl Rast from here

What is your definition of gratefulness?

Two things have to come together for someone to be grateful: First, we have to experience something we really like, and the second is that it has to be a gift. In other words, it must be a free gift — we haven’t bought it, we haven’t traded it in, we haven’t earned it. It is really a gift to us. When these two things come together — something that we really like is given to us — then spontaneously, in every human being, that joy rises up. It is something that happens once in a while – that gratefulness triggers joy. 

But we can live in such a way where we are constantly triggering joy. That is, if we realize that every moment is a given moment. Every moment is a gift. We have not bought it, we have not earned it. It is simply given to us. And with this moment is given to us opportunity. That is the key word. Every moment gives us another opportunity. And to respond to that opportunity, moment by moment by moment as a free gift, releases that joy that we are really looking forward to as human beings.

In your work you say that faith is deep trust, and that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but fear.  With many areas of the world in conflict, how do we as individuals and society keep the faith?

This is really our basic choice: to trust in life or not to trust in life. And it is a choice — we can simply refuse to trust in life. We can try it out. If somebody isn’t sure, if somebody doesn’t do it spontaneously, they can try it out and see that by doing so, one lives against the grain and everything goes wrong. If one trusts in life, life will not disappoint us. 
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It may seem at the moment disappointing, but we all know, looking back through the rearview mirror of our lives, that something happened in the past, to practically every one of us, that at the time we thought was absolute disaster and turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to us. 

And since we know it in our past, we can trust as we go forward that it will also happen to us in the future.  But it is made very difficult for some people to trust in life. One has to have profound compassion for them, because they may have been so often disappointed. If people are injured and have scar tissue with regard to trust in life, then it is mine and your responsibility to be particularly trustworthy towards them — and particularly loving and kind — so that they regain their trust in life."

 Below is from an article called The Night Watch by David Steindl - Rast from here p56-58. It is a beautiful passage that walks us through the Vigil prayer. 

"Vigils is the womb of silence, the longest hour.

Walking to the oratory under the predawn starry sky is an awe-inspiring experience and a fitting beginning for the monastic day as the monks gather for Vigils.
They enter the monastery’s heart, the oratory, while it is still dark. 

The oratory is a place dedicated to only one purpose: prayer. At this hour, the only light will often be that of the cantor’s lectern. The choir sits rapt in darkness. All details are hidden. Out of this womb of darkness and silence emerges the chant.

Vigils—also known as Matins— is the night watch hour, the time for learning to trust the darkness. Looking up to the night sky, we are reminded of the immense mystery in which we are immersed. 

The root meaning of the word “mystery” is to shut one’s eyes and ears. Mystery is silence, darkness. Rilke speaks in his Book of Hours of turning inward, of looking deep into himself, and he reports what he finds, “My God is dark.” and sees a thousand theologians plunging like divers into the night of God’s name. 

The poet prays, “You darkness from which I come, I love you more than the flame that sets boundaries.” The shining flame lights up the things around it, but outside of this arbitrary circle of light lies deep darkness, which is limitless. 

That darkness is symbol and image for the divine mystery, the nothingness (the no-thing-ness) of the divine realm. Everyday reality, the world of things we learn to manage, is inherently finite, bounded, lit up, and delimited.

But darkness holds  to everything, embraces everything, including you and me. “And maybe in this darkness a great energy stirs right near me,” the poet says and then expresses his deepest conviction,

“I trust in night.” Vigils is an invitation to learn to “trust in night,” to trust the darkness despite the immense fear it triggers. We have to learn to meet mystery with the courage that opens itself to life. Then we discover, as the Gospel of John puts it right in the prologue prologue,

“The light shines in the darkness.” This doesn’t mean that light shines into the darkness, like a flashlight shining into a dark tent. No, the good news that the Gospel of John proclaims is that the light shines right in the midst of darkness. A great revelation: the very darkness shines.

This is why the psalmist sings, “I will say to that darkness, ‘be my light.’” To recognize the darkness itself as light can be a great consolation. When we find ourselves in inner darkness, we cry out with the prophet, “Watchman, what of the night?” When is it going to be over? 

The challenge is to look deeply enough to discover that this darkness is all that we need and to find in it what we are looking for. Listening deeply to chant, we will hear a darkness turned into sound, a darkness that shines.

The night wind is the natural voice of Vigils. Wind is a symbol for spirit, which comes from the same word as breath or breathe. The Holy Spirit is that life breath that blows in the darkness. Chant is the spirit made audible. 

It’s a symbol for the wind that blows in the mind, and we cannot tell “whence it cometh and whither it goeth.” It is a total surprise, total creativity. 

To sing chant, monks learn to breathe correctly; by learning to breathe, one learns to be centered and to be more present where one is.

Beautiful version of The Lord's Prayer in Aramaic Chant

Abwoon D'Bashmaya

 In one of his poems, Robert Frost whimsically speaks of the wind that didn’t yet know how to blow until we humans took it in and gave it voice. 

Chant, like poetry, is the wind the wind was meant to be. “The aim was song.” We all struggle with dark periods, like Jacob wrestling in the night with the Divine Presence in the form of a dark angel, beautiful and yet terrifying. At the end of the night, the angel says, “Let me go.” 

Image Jacob wrestles with angel by Jack Baumgartner  More Here

But Jacob replies, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” As dawn breaks, the angel blesses him but also injures him by touching his thigh. From that day on, Jacob limps. 

There is a mysterious woundedness that somehow goes with great blessing.

When we truly encounter the night in all its beauty and terror, we have no assurance whatsoever that we are going to come out unscathed. you come out injured, it might just be a sign of the blessing that you have received there. 

The hour of the vigils is also a symbol of the waking up we have to do in the midst of our lives. The kind of world in which we live is really a benighted world. This watching in the night and waiting for the light, this wakefulness is a forceful reminder to wake up throughout the day from the world of sleep to another reality. 

A daydream, a chance remark overheard, a fleeting thought that crosses our mind as we wait in the express lane at the supermarket may be the message of an angel, passing as swiftly as a shooting star in the night sky.  

Time to wake up.  

The angel for vigils wears a dark scarlet garment and holds his horn as if he were ready to blow, but he is not yet blowing. His left hand makes a strange gesture that signals, “Wait; not yet.” His eyes are turned upward. He waits in that reverent silence out of which every genuine sound must come. This angel personifies the expectant listening attitude that must precede genuine word or song.

 Vigils calls us to a loving listening. Because we have so much restlessness and noise in us, we find it hard to nurture a listening attitude. So even the very listening to chant begins cultivating that listening. It is an attentiveness that begins with our sense of hearing but leads much further and much deeper. 

Monks are encouraged to listen with their hearts so that in the end they may perceive “what eye has not seen, nor ear heard.” Rising well before dawn for Vigils allows monks to add a whole extra dimension to their day. 

Not a few men and women outside the monastic life have discovered that they too can bring the spirit of Vigils into their lives by setting aside a certain time  and space for nothing but spiritual pursuit: meditation, prayer, silence, listening to music— whatever suits them.  

If we add a little time to the beginning of our day, even if it means getting up fifteen minutes earlier, this contemplative moment in the early morning can enrich our whole day. 

Don’t worry, you’re not wasting time. Don’t think that you are taking time away from something that needs to be done. Without the contemplative dimension, the whole day can slip away into a mad chase, but those few minutes can give it meaning and joy. And if you can set aside a little corner in your home, however modest, as a sanctuary, that space can readily conduct you each day back into the contemplative mode.If you get up fifteen minutes earlier, you have this extra bit of time that doesn’t have to be put to some practical purpose. The useful fits into your normal routine. You can delight in this extra time,  savoring it in any way you wish. Many play music in the morning. 

Not a few these days listen to chant, the music that monks chant at this hour, music in which the great silence of mystery becomes sound. If you make time for this, it may change the whole character of your day. Vigils, then, is the hour that calls us to set aside time outside the practical demands of the day and to connect with that dark but grace-filled mystery in which we are immersed. 

Once the bright light of day dawns and the demands of the day begin, it is easy to forget the sacred, timeless dimension of our lives. The angel of Vigils challenges us to carry through the rest of the day the mystery of a darkness that gives light, to carry it with wonder and joy, like a melody we cannot forget.•

" In Celtic tradition, time had a secret structure and events had their own sacredness. The Celtic mind practiced what I call reverence of approach to experience. Experience was a profound threshold of creativity and transformation. Anything and everything that happens in experience unfolds, expresses, and embodies your identity. 

The Celtics had blessings for starting off the day, blessings for encounters, blessings for work, blessings for eating and for cooking. The last blessing at night was a blessing for the soaring of the fire. In the Celtic tradition, most of the wisdom was handed on around the fire, which was a lovely image of the heart and warmth. 

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The coals of one night's fire would be the seed for the fire of the next day. The Celtics had this intimate and almost domestic sense of divine shelter and divine activity in the world. When you approach life like that, you are acutely aware of your own gift in the world. 

When you are aware of your gift, you are aware that your purpose is somehow tied into the deepest hunger and the deepest call of the world.
Additionally, prayer takes you into another kind of space. It takes you into that oblique interim place where the connections between things are born and where there is secretness together, where secret togetherness becomes active.

 Therefore, prayer is not about anything specific. 

Meister Eckhart said there is a place in the soul that neither time nor space nor no created thing can touch. 

The intentionality of prayer is to take us as frequently as possible into that serenity and tranquility and purity of space where we can heal and renew. 

The insight of prayer means that you are not identical to your biography, you are not just a psychological matrix. There is a place in you which is beyond psychology, and that is the eternal place within you. 

The more we visit there, the more we are touched and fused with the limitless kindness and affection of the divine.

 The ultimate goal of prayer is to learn to behold yourself with the same gentleness, pride, expectation, and compassion with which the divine presence beholds you at every moment. 

If we can inhabit that reflex of divine presence, then compassion will flow naturally from us."

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