Prayer as Relationship with God (V)

This is the 40th blog in a series exploring various aspects of “prayer.”  The first blog is “Why Pray?” and the previous blog is Prayer as Prayer as Relationship with God (IV).

It is Christ who made prayer to the Father the means to communion with Him.  It is our union with Christ that brings this salvation – the union of God to humanity – to each of us personally.  Our prayers are thus not to some vague and distant deity, but rather to the God who is immanent to our souls and hearts.  We do not hope that “the Force” may be with us, but we seek a relationship with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, the Three Persons of the Godhead.  We enter into a personal relationship with God, which means we always encounter the Father or the Son or the Holy Spirit when we have any encounter with God.  There is no such thing as an amorphous divinity which empowers us.  God is personal and a someone that we encounter.

“However much we say on prayer, it still remains in ultimate need of experience.  In its reality, prayer is the experience of being in God’s presence.  Outside God’s presence there is no prayer.  The right to enter into God’s presence, we have learned, was gained when Christ opened the way.  It was consecrated on the day he was crucified and inaugurated the day he rose and ascended.  He introduced a new and living way through his body, the temple curtain separating from man what belongs to God.  It was torn open by God’s hand.  The tear proceeded from the top, which is God’s dwelling, to the bottom, where we reside.  Having previously been hidden in the Father, eternal life rushed into our being and appeared within us.”   (Abba Isaac in  Orthodox Prayer Life, pgs. 128)

Over and over we have seen in the sayings reproduced in this blog series that we are too seek God, not just what God can give us.  St. Augustine says:

“’I sought the Lord and he heard me.’  [Ps 34:4]   If someone has not been heard it means he has not sought the Lord.

Pay particular attention to this point.  The Psalm does not say: ‘I asked the Lord for riches and he heard me.  I asked for a long life and he heard me.  I begged for this or that and he heard me.’  Seeking to obtain something from the Lord does not mean seeking the Lord himself.  ‘I sought the Lord and he heard me.’

You yourself, when you pray, what do you say to him?

Maybe you request him to remove so-and-so whom you detest form the world!  If so you are not seeking the Lord by setting yourself up as judge of your enemy and demanding that God should execute your sentence.  Are you sure the person whose death you are requesting is not better than you?  In this, at least, he is probably better than you: he can plead that he is not praying for your death.

When you turn to God, do not seek some favor from him.  Seek the Lord himself and he will hear you.”  (in DRINKING FROM THE HIDDEN FOUNTAIN, p 368-369)

If we want God to hear our prayer, we have to seek Him, not just seek what He can give us or what He can do for us, but actually seek a relationship with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Experiencing miracles is nothing compared with uniting ourselves to Christ, the incarnate God.  Magical power is a vapid and vacuous experience compared to having the Holy Spirit abide in us.

“For the ascetic, prayer was not merely the speaking of words.  It was the heart yearning for God, reaching out in hopeful openness to being touched by God.  Prayer was the Holy Spirit breathing through the inner spirit of the ascetic and returning to God with yearnings for intimacy.”  (Laura Swan, THE FORGOTTEN DESERT MOTHERS, p 27)

We can breathe the Holy Spirit.  That is what it means to be inspired.

Ultimately, the question is why settle for some things that God can give us, when God offers Himself to us?   We are taught to seek first God, and then His gifts will be ours as well.

Yet, it perhaps sadly true that we prefer the gifts to the Giver because the gifts will be ours to do with as we please, while if we have the Giver, we will have to submit to His Holy Will and to recognize Him as King and Lord.

Next:   Prayer as Relationship with God (VI)

The Noise of Children in Church

The problem of children making noise in church is not a new one, but an ancient one.  In THE SAYINGS OF THE DESERT FATHERS we find the following quote attributed to Abba Poemen (4th Century AD):

“Abba Peomen’s brethren said to him: ‘Let us leave this place, for the monasteries here worry us and we are losing our souls; even the little children who cry do not let us have interior peace.’ 

Abba Poemen said to them: ‘Is it because of voices of angels that you wish to go away from here?’” 

Indeed if the noise of children causes us to want to leave the church, how would we stand if threatened with martyrdom?   Many Christians remained faithful to the Church even when the cries and noise they heard was that of those who came to silence them and even kill them because of their faith in Christ.

It may be that the distraction of noisy children in church puts us to the test.  The real test however is whether we can overcome our anger, impatience and judgmentalism.  St. Paul does warn us that if we engage in enmity, strife and anger, we will not inherit the Kingdom of God (Galatians 5:20-21).   He never says that children being noisy in church will lose their salvation, no matter how damnable we feel their behavior is.  When we lose self control and allow wrath, anger and hatred to take control of our thoughts, emotions and lives, we drive the Holy Spirit away from our hearts.   For St. Paul tells us:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law.”   (Galatians 5:22-23)

Indeed, the feelings of anger and annoyance at the behavior of others might in fact be a normal human reaction in the world of the Fall, but we are to be guided by the Holy Spirit, and so are to strive to overcome our sinful inclinations.  That is the very purpose of our confessing our sins in church.   The noise of the thoughts which arise in our hearts and minds – our anger, wrath and malice – are much more offensive to God than the noise of little children.

“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.  Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice,  and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”   (Ephesians 4:30-32)

An old Christian saying:  “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”  It is better for us in love to find solutions to parish problems, to create a worship space in which all can be blessed by God.

I am addressing these words to those who struggle with impatience and anger as they experience noisy children in church.

Mary and Joseph bring the Christ-child into the temple

To the parents of children, there is another wisdom needed, that of love for one’s fellow Christians – we can exhibit that in our own dealing with our children and being aware when it is time to take them out of the church nave because their behavior is disturbing others.  Parents too have to learn patience and perseverance in bringing their children to church and having to deal with them during the Liturgy.  Your child is not preventing you from experiencing the Liturgy, but rather is giving you opportunity to do the work of love – raising your children – within Christian community.  The word “Liturgy” is often said to mean “the work of the people.”  The parents work is to patiently deal with their children while persevering the faith.  Not an easy task by any stretch of the imagination.    Denying oneself is something each Christian must practice and we also thereby set an example for our children.

See also my blog The Angelic Voice of Children.