Praying (XII)

This is the 24th blog in a series exploring various aspects of “prayer.”  The first blog is “Why Pray?” and the previous blog is Praying (XI).

The practice of remembering the acts of God is central to Orthodox communal worship.  At each Divine Liturgy we remember the saving acts of God, and give thanks for them.  Remembering the saving deeds which God has done to bring us up to heaven is not a search into the distant past history, but rather makes God in His saving deeds present in our lives here and now.  This is also accomplished on each Feast Day and in all of the sacraments of the Church.

Remembering God at every moment of our lives is a TASK for each of us who claim God as our Father.  It is a task – work, requires expending energy – because we do not readily keep God in our daily focus.  This has been a serious and sinful failure of the people of God through history:  for example meditate on Psalm 106 paying attention to the words “remember” and “forget”.  The task of remembering requires us to strive to drive out all extraneous thoughts and to focus on God.  Just remembering God daily is hard work!  It is taking up the cross daily, but it is also an act of love and therefore not a heavy burden but a task that uplifts us.

“This is the true foundation of prayer: keeping watch over your own thoughts and giving yourself to prayer in great tranquility, in great peace, in such a way as not to disturb others . . . You will then have to wage war on your own thoughts and cut back their rampant growth . . . push ahead towards God, refrain from doing as your thoughts would have you do, but on the contrary lead them back from their dispersion.”   (Olivier Clement, THE ROOTS OF CHRISTIAN MYSTICISM, pp 169-170)

The task of remembering God is hard work, and not just because of evil or sin.  There are endless distractions in our modern entertainment-driven culture which are competing for our attention.  The desire for pleasure, for escape, for entertainment and for fulfilling one’s ‘wants’, all take our minds away from God.  Which is not to say that these things must turn our minds away from God, they could make us thankful to Him.  But often we pursue them for what they do for us with little regard for how we might serve God through the blessings He bestows on us. When we engage in self love rather than true love for the other, we are distracted from God.

Remembering God does not require us to go searching for Him in the heavens or in the future coming Kingdom.  We remember God in our own hearts right here and right now for the kingdom of God is within us (Luke 17:21).  We can encounter God in the poor and needy, Christ’s least brothers and sisters.

“When you pray to the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost—to the one God in the Trinity – do not seek Him outside yourself, but contemplate Him within, as dwelling in you, entirely penetrating and knowing you.  ‘Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Cor 3:16).  ‘And I will walk among you, and will be your God’ (Lev 26:12).  ‘I will dwell in them, and walk in them, and I will be their God, and will be a Father unto you (2 Cor 6:16, 18).”  (St. John of Kronstadt, MY LIFE IN CHRIST Part 2, p 195)

Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss

Remembering God constantly means setting aside other things which are on our minds, including the ways in which others failed us or offended us.

“(St.) Makarios  (d. 392AD) teaches us another important lesson regarding the wrongs done to us by another. As noted above, he advocates in their place a constant remembrance of God: ‘If we keep remembering the wrongs which men have done to us, we destroy the power of the remembrance of God.’ To meditate on the wrongs of others is to create a major obstacle to prayer. Prayer should become the primary and constant activity of all that we do in life. Prayer is not something we say from time to time, but something we are to be all the time.”  (Gary M. Burge and Brad Nassif, Bringing Jesus to the Desert, Kindle,  Loc. 803-6)

Next:  Praying (XIII)