In the previous blog, we encountered several different metaphors which St. John Chrysostom (d. 407AD) uses to describe prayer. Here Chrysostom continues with more metaphors concerning prayer, and a note that a poor man who can pray is wealthier than the rich man who is deprived of prayer.
“Surely, prayer is a harbor for those caught in a storm; it is an anchor for those tossed by the waves; it is a staff for those who stumble. Prayer is a treasure for the poor, security for the rich, a cure for the sick, a safeguard for those in good health. It keeps our blessings inviolable and quickly changes our ills to good.
If temptation comes, it is easily repelled. If loss of possessions or any of the other things which cause grief to our souls befall us, prayer is quick to drive them all away. Prayer is a refuge from every sorrow, a basis for cheerfulness, a means for continual pleasure, a mother for our philosophy and way of life. Even if the man who can pray with diligence is destitute of all things, he is richer than any other man. Yet, one who has been robbed and deprived of prayer may sit on the very throne of a king, but he is poorer than the poorest man.” (St. John Chrysostom, THE INCOMPREHENSIBLE NATURE OF GOD, p 209-210)
By using such rich and varied metaphors, Chrysostom helps us move away from imagining that prayer is but a technique. Prayer is many things and accomplishes many things in our lives. Prayer involves our entire being, it is not just something we say, but something we believe and a relationship with our Creator.
‘Prayer is a work of the heart, not of the lips. For God does not pay attention to the words of the one who is praying to him, but rather to his or her heart. It is better to pray in the silence of the heart than to pray only with words, without the mind paying attention.
It is useless to pray when trust and hope are missing.
Our spirit contemplates God perfectly only if it is not obstructed by earthly anxieties.’” (Defensor Grammaticus – 7th Cent – in DRINKING FROM THE HIDDEN FOUNTAIN, p 367)
We come again to the notion that prayer is a way of life, not just one activity in which we occasionally engage. In prayer we are conversing with God, an activity that ought to be present at every moment of our lives for we are always to remember God and His saving deeds. I think especially of Psalm 106 and Psalm 107.
“To describe it with the boldest expression, payer is a conversation with God.
Even if we speak with a low voice, even if we whisper without opening the lips, even if we call to him only from the depths of the heart, our unspoken word always reaches God and God always hears.
Sometimes, however, besides speaking, we lift our head and raise our arms to heaven.
In this way we are underlining the desire that the spirit has for the spiritual world. We are striving with the word to raise the body above the earth. We are giving wings to the soul for it to reach the good things on high.” (Clement of Alexandria in DRINKING FROM THE HIDDEN FOUNTAIN, p 366)
Next: What is Prayer? (VIII)