Question: Where is God?
Fear: God is not speaking to me.
Transubstantiation is not something that just happens to us once. It is a constant process that can sometimes feel like two steps forward and one step back. But it is necessary. As Maximos the Confessor wrote, “To reconcile us with the Father, at his Father’s wish the Son deliberately gave himself to death on our behalf so that, just as he consented to be dishonored for our sake by assuming our passions, to an equal degree he might glorify us with the beauty of his own divinity.”
One of the ways we make sure it’s progressing in the right direction is by having a vibrant life of prayer and worship.
The problem is that prayer and worship do not come naturally. In fact, most people must unlearn before they can relearn because the kind of popular devotion that they have practiced is closer to what C. S. Lewis called “the sweet poison of the false infinite.” The journey to worship “in spirit and in truth” often leads people to places that are quite frustrating and unnerving. In the discouragement, it’s easy to conclude that God is not on the other line, so to speak.
To fill up the awkwardness, we talk. We bring out our laundry list of petitions and intercessions. We sing our songs. We lecture God. We offer thanksgiving and praise. And then we leave.
Eventually, the notion creeps into the back of our mind: “Am I just talking to myself?”
The truth is, prayer is hard work. It involves listening and awareness more than it involves talking.
Evagrius the Solitary explained that prayer demands using a part of our mind that he called the “nous,” which he defined as a type of intuitive spiritual intelligence. He wrote, “Undistracted prayer is the highest intellection of the intellect. Prayer is the ascent of the intellect to God. If you long for prayer renounce all to gain all.” A simpler way to put it can be found in Mary Sarton’s Celtic Way of Prayer where she wrote, “Absolute attention is prayer.”
These books listed below are designed to introduce you to various approaches to prayer and worship that were mentioned in the chapter and that trace their roots back to the most ancient traditions in Christianity. Hopefully they will whet your appetite for further study.
Phyllis Tickle, The Divine Hours Series
Cynthia Bourgeault, Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening
Thomas Keating, Open Mind, Open Hearts
Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer and New Seeds of Contemplation
Anonymous, The Cloud of Unknowing