Wednesday, November 21, 2012

More Thoughts on Prayer and Sleep (or, Looking for a Distraction from Thanksgiving stuff?)

Union with Christ's death/sleep is essential to union with His life. For what is the purpose of the spiritual life other than to love, to be united with Jesus? This union IS our vocation. discerning this union is discerning our vocation. being formed into this union is being formed into this vocation.  If union with Christ is the motive and fruit of all our actions, there can be no question of the effectiveness of our prayer life, of our spiritual growth, and, yes, of the sincerity of our religious devotion. Of course, no one gets it perfect, but, at the same time, we all know that each prayer, each sacrifice and each breath brings us closer to such perfection when we move in Christ's grace. Keep Christ always before your mind and heart, and you cannot fail.

Yet even this simple mantra lacks something. In fact, it lacks something essential for lovers and Christians alike: knowledge of presence. Yes, we might admit, keeping the idea of God before me is a good practice, but where's the fun, fruit and point in it if I don't experience Him in the giving of myself to Him? It is one thing for the lover to be there, sitting quietly looking at me. It's another thing entirely to know what that gaze communicates, to experience in it all its meaning and content. And I need that meaning and content just to carry on. It is here that we come to a particularly sticky problem. Prayer can never promise us complete satisfaction. The loving gaze we look for will not always be returned. If there is one thing that all of the various spiritual masters do agree on, it's that we must come to prayer expecting nothing, at least nothing in particular. If our spiritual life is to have any real focus, if it is to do anything different to change us, transform us and turn us into the types of people Christ wants us to be, we must come to it expecting only that God wants us to be there and not that we ourselves will always want to be there. This advice is nothing new. It can be found in the heart of every spiritual work that you read (and not just every Christian spiritual work). However it is here at its most dismal that the Christian spiritual message (indeed the whole Christian spiritual life) shifts a great truth into focus. In fact it is the greatest truth that the Christian religion has to offer us in this life and it is the only thing that truly makes the Christian religion unique.

Many religions tell us  that we must find inner peace or come to an inner harmony or learn to forgive ourselves for the sake of others, but also, all preach an Omnipotent God (or Being or Force) who can rule over us and use us in this particular state of passivity to do his will. They focus on a spiritual discipline in prayer that runs far too close to the utilitarian ideals we have already condemned. In contrast, it is only the Christian religion that offers the bruising and startling fact of her own creed which states that the baptized Christians vocation is based on an imitate encounter with not only an omnipotent God but also a weak and powerless human being.

We are told that in our baptism we died with Christ; we are told that in our baptism we also rise with him; and we're told that in our prayer we gained, a communion a constant communion with this dying and rising. Yet, as with any good love story, the best thing is left unsaid. It is taken for granted when you're told that we must imitate Christ who is already in possession of us through this dying and rising. But by faith in him we are more than just imitating his actions; we're also moving out of his very Love. This type of love is so unlike anything found in any other place, offered by any other system, described by any other faith. For the Christian is called to a radical vocation and baptism, a vocation that I will attempt to describe in a few short words.

It is no new thing for religion to claim that man gropes for God in the dark, and some religions claim the man is even been able to find him. However, it is the Christian religion that claims that on that uncanny Passover evening in the garden of Gethsemane we can see a God groping for Man in the dark. Everything from the betrayal of Judas to the denial of Peter to the trial before Caiaphas, to the hours spent alone in the cell in to the minutes of torture at the pillar in the courtyard show us a God that was groping for us just as much, nay even more, than we we are willing to look for him. In this mystery of the passion of Christ, which through the sacrament of baptism forms the foundation of the Christian spiritual life and vocation, the Christian sees mirrored in his own life the greatest love story ever told. The greatness of this love story does not arise simply from a passionate, painful and wonderful love. It is great because it describes the greatest of lovers. The actors in this drama are not just man and woman; they're not just God and man, but they're God-Man, us and God. There is something in the very syntax of the previous sentence that reveals a great truth. In this great story of the passion and in the great emotion of baptism man finds himself sandwiched between God and God. The Confines of his vocation are found in the very act of being pulled into the role of the Godhead, of being drawn into the very life of the Trinity. When the Son cries out to the Father in obedience, man himself finds himself crying out; and by some strange miracle of death and water, he hears his own voice echo between the walls of the inner tabernacle of God's love, the Son's human voice resounding, piercing through man and reaching the Father. So powerful and incomprehensible is this calling, the calling of the Son to the Father, that man must in a certain sense, falls back asleep in order to be re-created. Our Faith was born in the almost faithlessness of God. Our love was born when it seemed all love, even God's love, had failed.

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