Pray Without Ceasing (and still finish the laundry)

by | Oct 15, 2015 | 6 Pure in Heart

RegoicePrayGiveThanks_1Thess5-16-18_Cs_500Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God (Matthew 5:8).
The spiritual classic, The Way of a Pilgrim, offers the travelling tale of a Russian peasant many years ago after a Bible verse refused to let him go.  He heard, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and had to know how to do it.  It seemed unattainable, but he had to try.  His travels took him to learned teachers with good advice and wise words, but not until someone gave him a method did this practical man embrace an answer and move forward.
A monk gave him simple instructions: Keep travelling and pray repeatedly, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” As you may recall, my last post discussed how I begin my daily travels with that prayer as a reflex action of the heart, and I suspect that many share the same experience. But what would become of the soul who prays it throughout each day?
This mantra, “The Jesus Prayer,” forms souls, conditions them to see Christ in all things and shapes the will to follow him in every encounter and every lonely place.  It takes radical trust, dying to God and finding new life.
A French monk, Brother Lawrence, did it another way.  A practical man as well, his sparse notes and letters became another spiritual classic, The Practice of the Presence of God. As he repaired shoes, swept floors, cleaned fish, and traveled to buy wine for the brothers, he kept an ongoing inner conversation with God.  Despite his place at the bottom of the monastery totem pole, he became a spiritual director in very high demand from visitors far and wide.
Michael Parnell’s comment on my last post prompted reflection on another approach to unceasing prayer.  Hearkening back to the simple prayer for mercy, he referred to writings by Michael Warden on how “mercy begets mercy.”  When I remember God’s mercy for me, I will have mercy on others.  I will carry God’s compassion into every encounter, even when someone cuts me off in traffic or a co-worker annoys me.  Is that not a life lived in conversation with God, ever listening and responding to Love with love?
Prayer and acts of mercy spring from the same root motive: We do both out of a loving desire to encounter Christ, to see God face to face.  Prayer takes us there in our hearts.  Acts of mercy take us there in our relationships.  “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me,” said Jesus (Matthew 25:40).
Prayer entails living out of your deepest desire to love and commune with God. Attention wanders and intentions drift, but the heart given to God returns every time. You may return inward in silent contemplation or outward in care.  Either way you pray without ceasing not because you achieve a feat of self-discipline, but because the Holy Spirit intercedes, keeping in touch even when you are out of touch, drawing you back as long as you are willing.

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