Friday, May 10, 2002

Random musings on prayer

(Time to squeeze in one quick blog)

If you've never visited Sacred Space, you really should. I plan on visiting every day, and usually find an excuse not to.

One of the best things about it is the reminders of how to pray (perhaps one reason I excuse myself too often). Every visit takes you through an Ignatian process of prayer, which is more than the usual "Dear God, please give me lots of stuff, and, oh yeah, take care of a couple of people for me." What it does most is to help me remember that God doesn't want me so much to be mindful of or scornful towards my inadequacies as He wants that I forget about myself entirely. Perhaps not entirely, but certainly to stop dwelling on myself.

I often use the first person pronoun here, and have tried to think why. Some of it no doubt comes from a suspicion of preachers who talk about everyone BUT themselves. (The moment in the Simpsons, where there are Hare Krishnas getting on a plane in India, and a bunch of white guys in suits are in the airport singing "If you're saved and you know it, clap your hands!" captures my annoyance perfectly.) It is much easier and safer to talk about my own inadequacies, than to guess about those of others. But in another way, this is still egotism at work. Whether for good or ill, it is still too much about me.

The Spirit works best within each of us when we forget ourselves entirely and trust. My friends have all heard this before: In English, when one wishes to tack a sailing vessel, the command to turn is generally "hard alee!" a straightforward direction for the helmsman. In French, the command which is given, translated literally, means "Let go and trust to God!" The English version is much more practical, but the French form strikes me as a better plan for living one's life. And yet, each of us is constantly running around trying to steer against wind and tide, hard against a lee shore with no sea room, and not a chance of weathering the point on our own. At such a moment, it matters not a whit that I pause and say, egotistically, "I am skilled enough to do this! I am the Captain of my soul!" or contrariwise, that I dwell on my inadequacies as a sailor. If "Me" is the focus, then all is lost. Both are distractions to the essential thing: sailing the ship.

The Ignatian prayer method works because it seeks to peel away the egotistical layers first, and then begin prayer. It puts the focus off the sailor and onto the sailing. One of my favorite introductions to prayer there is a quote from Ignatius, with which today's reflection will conclude:

There are very few people
who realise what God would make of them
if they abandoned themselves into his hands,
and let themselves be formed by his grace. (St Ignatius)
I ask for the grace to trust myself totally to God's love.


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