Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Prayer without ceasing

St Paul, writing in his first letter to the Thessalonians exhorts and encourages his readers to

"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." (1 Thess 5:15-16)

If relationship to God in prayer is based on being totally open to God, this places the need for awareness of God at the core of our being, and helps us understand what prayer without ceasing means. How is it possible to cultivate such an awareness? 

'Mindfulness' is a popular word in contemporary discourse, drawn from Buddhist teaching and practise. This involves complete self observation - physical, mental and spiritual - also being aware of one motives and intentions, and the moral consequences of ones actions in striving to follow the right path through life. 

Nothing about the Buddhist Eightfold Path is foreign to the content Christian moral and spiritual teaching. It is simply ordered and presented differently. The Christian path of faith is different in placing relationship with God, infinite unknown, uncreated Author of all, not as an optional belief, but essential, central to human existence, its goal. As St Augustine said

"Lord, you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you."

It's not easy at any time to stay focused on God, for good or for ill, for distractions abound for the restless heart and mind. How many conversations, let alone quiet moments in the life of Jesus, were interrupted by needy people? He was subject to the invasion of fear and anxiety like other human being, even if he wasn't troubled for long. The heart hungry for God resembles a compass needle. It can be deflected off course, yet it returns to its natural orientation after a while.

Once we realise there is no better alternative in life, making the conscious effort to keep turning back to God - repentance - the choice of habit eventually becomes as unconscious as the act of breathing. The few words we may use in redirecting ourselves to God, are anything but 'vain repetition'. Rather they serve as an anchor to the act of willing self surrender.

"God have mercy on me a sinner"  (Luke 18:13b)

This prayer doesn't require remorse or regret or even sorrow, although there may be times when this is appropriate. We are, after all, forgiven. We are sinned against and sin against others, always in need of some measure of healing. Recognising that I am a sinner, that we are all sinners, is a way to remind ourselves of our imperfection and need for healing.

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