Back in 1925, the spiritual writer Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941) gave a retreat in England and one of her conferences dealt with the topic of prayer. Several years ago the conferences were published in “The Ways of the Spirit.” Here are some of Underhill’s convictions on prayer.
Prayer is essential “communion” with God, a rich dialogue between the Creator and creature; prayer takes us into another world; adoration is the very heartbeat of Christian prayer, this loving attention to Christian prayer, this loving attention to the mystery of God; prayer nourishes our adoring love, our sense of wonder, our commitment to service; prayer continually reestablishes our basic relationship with God; prayer is basically an act of self-giving to God.
Prayer is all of this and more. In today’s Gospel, Jesus went up the mountain to pray. After spending that quiet time with the Father, he returned to transmit the grace he had received. Two things he desired for his frightened disciples tossed about by the raging storm: courage and faith. These are gifts received when the heart is turned toward God: the ability to face difficulties, dangers and even death; and, the ability to believe and trust in God even when all seems lost. How desperately we need a life of prayer.
Elijah, like Jesus, was a mountain person. We see him in a cave on Mt. Horeb. The prophet is in dialogue with God — a time of prayer. The topic has to do with the presence of God: Where is God to be found? Possibly God is found in a strong, heavy wind or earthquake or some majestic fire. It was in none of these that God was revealed to Elijah that day. Rather, God came to him in a tiny, whispering sound.
For Moses, God did come in fire. To Mary, the mother of Jesus, God came through the visitation of an angel as Gabriel invited her to be the mother of our Savior. To these apostles on the wind-swept sea, Jesus came with his gifts of courage and faith. Each of us, as the poet Jane Tyson Clement urges, “must have our welcome waiting.” The conditions for this reception are that we watch, wonder and wait.
And good old St. Paul! It was in prayer that Paul fostered and nourished his relationship with Christ. In Paul’s letter to the Romans, we witness his tremendous sorrow and constant anguish that his own people, the Israelites, blessed in so many ways, were not able to accept Jesus as the Messiah. So profound was the grief that Paul was even willing to be separated from Christ if that meant his people would embrace the Lord.
Prayer is so many things. In the end it comes down to listening and responding to God’s message of love and mercy revealed in Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Questions for reflection
1. What are your three favorite prayers? Why?
2. Who taught you how to pray? Whom have you taught?
Bishop Morneau is pastor of Resurrection Parish, Allouez.