We know we need to do it; to put our busy lives on hold for just a bit, turn off the phone and computer and spend time in prayer. We want to do it. We know we’ll be better for it. But life churns at an incredible pace that keeps us racing from one thing to another. We procrastinate. Time passes.
What to do? What we really need is to retreat!
What? No time for a week-long retreat let alone a weekend? Not a problem! A spiritual director told me recently, “God doesn’t need a lot of your time (since He is not bound by time); but He does need a little, not much, at least enough to get His foot in the door of your heart.” It is a good way to look at prayer then, as mini-retreats, moments to let ‘God get His foot in the open door of your heart.’
Saint Teresa of Avila described prayer this way: “…prayer is nothing else than a frequent solitary sharing with a friend of whose love we are certain.” If prayer is a sharing with a friend, why is it so difficult for us to do so with God? Saint Teresa is a good retreat director for us here, as she herself struggled in the beginning of her prayer; she understands our struggle and distractions and gives us some simple, sound advice.
According to Teresa, our prayer journey has two main parts: our effort (such as is found in vocal prayer and meditative prayer using our imagination) and that infused by God (this is where we move away from the activity of prayer into the quiet and are able to remain still before the Lord, which leads to a deeper prayer, union with God).
Part one. Our effort means, we have to show up. We have to show up at our friend (Jesus’) door and knock. This is our assent – our turning to God. When we show up at Jesus’ door and he invites us in, we do not distract ourselves with our media devices. We silence them and speak with our friend. Remember – not a lot of time; but in the beginning, especially, be attentive to the wonderings from prayer and call yourself back. St. Teresa’s friend in her distraction was perseverance. We must work to come back to our prayer – again and again – especially when it doesn’t seem to mean anything; those times when it seems we are doing all the work, and God is absent.
Part two. All the while, with our small efforts in prayer – whether it is vocal prayer* or meditation – God is pouring His gifts of prayer on us. God desires union with us, thus he infuses a spirit of prayer in our hearts, allowing us to experience intimacy with Him, an increased detachment from the preoccupations of our daily life, and hopefully, a deep union with God (this is our goal: to be transformed in our relationship with God).
Throughout our prayer, St. Teresa mentions, it helps us ‘advance’ in our prayer, to recall the sacred humanity of Jesus in our conversation with the Lord. She explains, having this capacity will not always require words to be spoken, but at times silence is even better, as we grow in awareness that we are not only looking at him, but that he is looking at us.
This act of prayer, from the active, imaginative prayer of talking with Jesus, to the quiet reflective prayer of silently being with Jesus is a progression from the “carnal” love to a “spiritual” love for God. It is a recognition that our prayer takes two. It is a meeting that involves more than our showing up; but it is a sacred meeting between us and our Creator – an appointment that can’t wait forever.
So, what will it be for you? Will you procrastinate or persevere? When is your ‘retreat’ or appointment with God?
* examples of vocal prayer: memorized prayers, rosary, talking out loud with God.