On Useless Pursuits: A Reflection on Prayer

People usually ask me “Oh, what did you major in at university?”
“Linguistics”, I reply shyly most times; for I know it’s a pretty useless degree. It isn’t very pragmatic for earning a living, very unlike the engineering and and the practical sciences.

But on hindsight, it’s precisely that it’s useless that makes it the “highest” pursuit in a way.

Many of us are slaves to doing something because there is something we want to achieve. I work because I need money. I need money because I need to feed my family. I need to feed my family because I want them to be happy and healthy… because I love them.

Put this way: the ‘highest’ cause in the above chain is love. I love them because I love them.

Precisely the fact this love free from the expectation that it will serve some higher cause that makes it the highest cause.
It is these ‘useless’ pursuits that are the higher cause.

The Sisters of Cottolengo at prayer. Photo by Rachel Zamarron

It’s so much alike our prayer life. As Henri Nouwen once said that prayer is a “USELESS” pursuit. Wait, what? Exactly that. In his book, The Only Necessary Thing, Nouwen beautifully expresses that:

“Prayer is not being busy with God instead of being busy with other things. Prayer is primarily a useless hour… Prayer is primarily to do nothing in the presence of God. It is to be NOT USEFUL and so to remind myself that if anything important in life happens, it is God who does it. So when I go into the day, I go with the conviction that God is the one who brings fruits to my work, and I do not have to act as though I am in control of things.”

And very much so if we think about it, prayer is the HIGHEST pursuit in our lives precisely because it doesn’t serve anything, it is not subordinate to an end; it is an end in itself.

We pray not to request for some healing, neither do we pray because we have to finish those novenas or simply out of guilt… Nothing about prayer is DOING, it really is just about BEING. We pray because we’re created out of love to participate in God’s Being… We pray because that’s what we were created to do.

We are human BE-ings after all, not human doings.

Such is the wonderful fact that the liturgy demonstrates: it unites art and reality in a supernatural childhood before God… [Worship] has one thing in common with the play of the child and the life of art — it has no purpose, but is full of profound meaning. It is not work, but play. To be at play, or to fashion a work of art in God’s sight — not to create, but to exist — such is the essence of the liturgy. From this is derived its sublime mingling of profound earnestness and divine joyfulness.
Fr. Romano Guardini, The Spirit of the Liturgy

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Originally posted at Catholic Rambles.

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