This is the 13th blog in a series exploring various aspects of “prayer.” The first blog is “Why Pray?” and the previous blog is What is Prayer? (VIII).
Prayer has to do not just with our standing in God’s presence, but even more so, by praying we are making God present in our lives and in our world. When we pray, we become a mediator between creation and God, doing what God created humans to do from the beginning. We each thus make a difference in the world when we pray, uniting not just ourselves but our surroundings to God. When we stand in God’s presence, we also help make God present in creation. It perhaps is something like the conscious observer in a quantum mechanics experiment – the observer makes the event take place. So too when we stand in God’s presence, then He becomes present in reality. Think about the disciples at the Transfiguration. Orthodox thinking says the apostles suddenly saw reality as it is – they themselves were transfigured by what they observed. Christ, as God’s Son, always shares/shared in the Father’s glory, but for a brief moment, the apostles saw that reality. It took conscious observers to see the event – to make it happen. For without the disciples watching, the transfiguration would have gone unrecorded.
“The fact that we are present in a situation alters it profoundly because God is then present with us through our faith. Wherever we are, at home with our family, with friends when a quarrel is about to begin, at work or even simply in the Underground, the street, the train, we can recollect ourselves and say, ‘Lord, I believe in you, come and be among us’.
And by this act of faith, in a contemplative prayer which does not ask to see, we can intercede with God who has promised his presence when we ask for it. Sometimes we have no words, sometimes we do not know how to act wisely, but we can always ask God to come and be present.” (METROPOLITAN ANTHONY , p 74)
When we understand we are to pray at all times, we realize there should not – cannot! – be a difference in us when we are consciously praying and when we are engaged in the necessary activities of life. We can be aware of God’s presence anywhere we are. We can help make God present wherever we are by being people of prayer.
“Therefore, before we begin to pray, we ought to try to be the kind of people whom we wish God to find when we pray. Whatever we do not want to creep into our time of prayer, we must try to keep out of the heart when we are not praying.” (Abba Isaac in Orthodox Prayer Life, p 128)
Our hearts are the very place God dwells with us. So we want in our hearts at all times what is in our hearts when we pray. Conversely as Abba Isaac notes above, we need to tend to the garden of our hearts and weed out all those things that should not be there when God is present.
We are not trying to create two selves – a prayerful self and then our secular self – rather through prayer we are trying to end all the divisions and separation and alienation which sin has caused in our world and in our selves. Even when we are not consciously engaged in prayer, we are to be preparing our hearts for prayer. That is, we are to be living the Christian life, following Christ, fulfilling the Gospel teachings.
We are by living the Christian life preparing our hearts and minds to receive the Holy Spirit, for it is the Spirit of God who teaches us to pray and who prays in us.
“Do not imagine, brother, that prayer consists solely of words, or that it can be learnt by means of words. No, the truth of the matter, you should understand, is that spiritual prayer does not reach fullness as a result of either learning or the repetition of words. For it is not to a man that you are praying, before whom you can repeat a well-composed speech: it is to Him who is Spirit that you are directing the movements of your prayer. You should pray therefore in spirit, seeing that He is Spirit.” (St. Isaac the Syrian, THE ASCETICAL HOMILIES, p 466)
Praying is a lifelong activity which is both how and why we are taught to pray without ceasing.
Next: Praying (II)