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Not all prayer involves saying prayers

|    Commentary by Thomas H. Hicks
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Aristotle, the famous Greek philosopher, arrived at the conclusion that there is one God who made all things. He further concluded that this God was a self-actualizing, eternal and immaterial Person. However, Aristotle concluded that this Supreme Reality did not care in any way about his human creatures. Relating to us would lessen God; it would be degrading to him.

Here is a quote from Aristotle: “God is self-sufficient and has no need for the service of others, nor of their affection…God cannot have any need of human friends, nor will he have any”

(Eudemian Ethics, VII, 1244B). Aristotle spoke of his friendship involves equality. Accordingly, there can be no friendship between humans and God.

This generally was the view of the Greek philosophers. For example, Epicurus stated that “it is absurd to think that the gods should concern themselves with the affairs of humans. This would upset their serenity and peace. Thus, the gods take no interest in human affairs and have no need of human worship.”

The Biblical God is presented as Someone Who knows and loves us in the uniqueness of our person. The Scriptures say He calls us by name and numbers the hairs of our head. He made human beings in order to offer His friendship. We are taught to speak of God as a “Father.”

Prayer is best defined as a search for God. It is an attempt to develop a relationship with the Ultimate Mystery. In his famous Rabbit novels, John Updike presents his protagonist, Rabbit, as someone who nothing he experiences is quite enough. He remains incomplete and searching. Toward the end of the novel Rabbit is Rich there is a scene that takes place at the end of day when Rabbit always felt most at peace, “the moment of the day when the light dims and the weeping cheery glows in the dark.” Rabbit insists to himself that “somewhere behind all this, there is Something or Someone that wants me to find Him.”

The writer C.S. Lewis spoke of prayer as seeking a relationship with “that unnameable something behind the sound of wild ducks flying overhead, the morning cobwebs in late summer, or the noise of falling waves.”

There is something in us that longs for God. Many experience a hunger for a deeper prayer life. The Lord was explicit and blunt in directing us against wordy prayers. “When you pray do not babble as the pagans do, for they think that by using many words they will make themselves heard. Do not be like them” (Matthew 6:5). We are cautioned against wordiness. St. Augustine wrote: “To pray at a deeper level is not the same as to pray by multiplying words…God does not seek human words” (Letter to Proba). The mystic Meister Eckhart wrote: “People make a goat of God, feeding Him on word-leaves.”

We can grow tired of words. Sometimes one can feel that our church services are awash with words, verbosity. This can lead to such monstrosities of language as “Mother inviolate” and “singular vessel of devotion.”

Not all prayer involves saying prayers. Jesus spent whole nights in prayer. “In those days he departed to the mountain to pray and he spent the night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12). It is unlikely he spent the night uttering words.

It was John of the Cross who stated that “silence is God’s first language.” Prayer often involves wordless attention, just being there, quietly gathered in God’s presence. “Stay quiet before the Lord, and wait longingly for Him” (Psalm 37:7). We need to build times of silence into our lives. Without silence there can be no interior life. We need to fast from too much togetherness and enjoy more solitude and silence. Solitude and silence are the sine qua non of contemplative prayer. Isaiah tells us to “be still and know that I am God.” The way of contemplation is found in all the great religions. It is practiced in Hinduism and Buddhism, among the Sufis in Islam, and is part of the Hasidic movement in Judaism.

If someone has a true experience of contemplative prayer, nothing else really satisfies anymore. Many people these days are experiencing a hunger for something more than a spirituality of devotions. Life causes one to examine one’s ideas of holiness. One tends not to see it as bound up with merit and reward; that’s part of the childhood of the spiritual life.

Close contact with worldly people often arouses a longing for the spiritual. We feel at times a certain weariness with the world.

A truth of the spiritual life is that “no one can come to me unless the Father draw him/her.” God takes the initiative. We do not get to God by our own efforts; God comes to us. John of the Cross stressed that no two people travel the exact same route to God. God has varied ways and methods to draw people to Himself. In the end, an individual is found by God.

Lately it has dawned on me that God is seeking me. For the first time, I truly believe this to be so. I look over my past and have a sense of God’s persistent pursuit. A mature spiritual life eventually feels much more like Someone has found you.