PARADOXICAL

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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

 

Prayer time and spiritual dryness


Prayer life is something so basic in the Christian's life that its absence mirrors the state of one’s spirituality. A priest describes prayer as the “bedrock of our Christian lives.” By prayer time, we mean a fixed time set apart to pray or listen to God in a place especially reserved for this activity. In that special “appointment” with God, we are expected to be in a posture of prayer.

Lack or neglect of prayer time can only be blamed on ignorance, laziness or wrong priorities.

Eventually, there comes a point when we think that praying is a boring thing to do, especially when the things we have been praying for for so long remain unanswered. Or we think we are burdened with so much work and responsibilities we have no time to pray; we even think that our prayer time is a burden.

The first fallacy comes from the everything-I-do-is-a-prayer-so-why-pray? school.
It has been noted that the everything-I-do-is-a-prayer statement may apply to those who are already deeply spiritual, but it is doubtful whether it applies as well to those who are new to the life of personal prayer. It may be closer to the truth that the statement is more of a scapegoat or justification for praying less and less.

The second fallacy is the I-only-pray-when-I-am-called-to school. This is also known as the Rhythm of Prayer theory, which roughly means you should pray only when you feel like being led to it by the Spirit. While the leading of the Spirit may be genuine, rendering the appointed time as an “hour of grace,” the theory may also be used as another scapegoat for our laziness and lack of fervor.

The third fallacy is that we can pray anytime, anywhere, and any which way because God is everywhere. While it’s true that God is everywhere, it should never be an excuse to pray only when we feel like it. While it’s true that we can have our own unique way of praying (some even dance as a way of praying and who is to say it’s not valid?), it must be clear that we should be in a posture of prayer, in a place decent enough and appropriately clean, and in an attire that honors, as it were, the presence of God Himself.

The fourth fallacy is, a good prayer means a long prayer. Not necessarily. Let me quote my Companion (Shepherd’s Voice Publications) on this: “It does not matter so much how long we pray but how strongly we desire to know and serve God.” But strangely enough, “the strong the desire to know God, the longer we will spend time in prayer to achieve precisely that goal.”

We should beware of these fallacies because they have the capacity to rob us of our devotion to prayer. St. Ignatius of Loyola, in his writing on spiritual desolation and consolation, is more forthright in saying that the devil is actually behind it whenever we feel tired about praying. While spiritual dryness is something God allows for a purpose, St. Ignatius observes that spiritual dryness oftentimes comes as a result of our own neglect. Understandably, it is only the devil who is being pleased by these moments of weakness. He enters the picture, attracted by our sin of complacency, whispering malicious thoughts and suggestions – which we tend to believe easily. These are times when we are more prone to negative emotions like fear, anger, depression, despair, and suicidal thoughts.

St. Ignatius then proceeds to make this suggestion: The cure to spiritual desolation is an even greater resolve to increase our fervor, patience, perseverance in our prayer life. It is implied that the enemy is turned off by our redoubled effort and he goes away like the loser that he is.

St. Paul has a more curt exhortation for us all who has turned lukewarm in prayer: “Pray unceasingly!”

One great implication noted about spiritual dryness is this: Never, ever make a major decision when you are in spiritual desolation or you’d be having the devil as your spiritual director.

The author, from whose conference speech I gather these fallacies, says that the mark of a truly spiritual person is that no matter how physically active he is in doing good work, he always has this longing to be with God in prayer. He always finds, must find, time to pray, to be away from it all, like Jesus retreating to the garden of Gethsemane or some other secluded place. The zeal for prayer (or lack thereof) is very revealing as to where the true treasure of one’s heart lies.

10.22.2001


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