The Two Phases of Prayer

July 22, 2009 § Leave a comment

“[There are two phases of prayer] like the two phases of the Apostles’ vision of the Transfigured Christ on Mount Thabor. At first Peter, James, and John were delighted with the vision of Jesus, Moses, and Elias. They thought it would be a fine thing to build three tabernacles and stay there on the mountain forever. But they were overshadowed  by a cloud, and a voice came out of the cloud striking them with fear, and when they regained their vision they saw no one but Jesus alone.

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So too there is another stage in our prayer, when consolation gives place to fear. It is a place of darkness and anguish and of conversion: for here a great change takes place in our spirit. All our love for God appears to us to have been full of imperfection, as indeed it has. We begin to doubt that we have ever loved Him. With shame and sorrow we find that our love was full of complacency, and that although we thought ourselves modest, we overflowed with conceit. We were too sure of ourselves, not afraid of illusion, not afraid to be recognized by other men as meof prayer. Now we see things in a difference light,for we are in a cloud, and the voice of the Father fill sour hearts with unrest and fear, telling us that we must no longer see ourselves: and yet, to our terror, Jesus does not appear to us and all that we see is – ourselves. Then what we find in our souls becomes terrible to us. Instead of complacently calling ourselves sinners (and secretly believing ourselves just) we bgin to find that the sins of our past life were really sins, and really our sins – and we have not regretted them! And that since the time when we were grave sinners, we have still sinned without realizing it, because we were too sure we were the friends of God, and we have taken His graces lightly, or taken them to ourselves, and turned them to our own selfish profit, and used them for our own vanity, and even exploited them to lift ourselves above other men, so that in many ways we have turned the love of God into selfishness and have reveled in His gifts without thanking Him or using them for His glory.

Then we begin to see that it is just and right that we be abandoned by God, and left to face many and great temptations. Nor do we complain of these temptations, for we are forced to recognize that they are only the expression of the forces that were always hiding behind the facade of our supposed virtues. Dark things come out of the depth of our souls, and we have to consider them and recognize them for our own, and then repudiate them, lest we be saddled with them for eternity. Yet they return, and we cannot escape them. They plague us in our prayer. And while we face them, and cannot get rid of them, we realize more clearly than ever before our great need for God, and the tremendous dept we owe His honor, and we try to pray to Him and it seems we cannot pray. Then begins a spiritual revaluation of all that is in us. We begint o ask ourselves what is and is not real in our ideals!

This is the time when we really learn to pray in earnest. For now we are no longer proud enough to expect great lights and consolations in our prayer. We ar satisfied with the driest crust of supernatural food, glad to get anything at all, surprised that God should even pay the slighest attention. And if we cannot pray (which is the source of concern) yet we know more than ever before how much we desire to pray. If we could be consoled at all, this would be our only consolation.

The man who can face such dryness and abandonment for a long time, with great patience, and ask nothing more of God but to do His holy will and never offend Him, finally enters into pure prayer. Here the soul goes to God in prayer without any longer adverting either to itself or to its prayer. It speaks to Him without knowing what it is saying because God Himself has distracted the mind from its words and thoughts. It reaches Him without thoughts because, before it can think of Him, He is already present in the depths of the spirit, moving it to love Him in a way it cannot explain or understand. Time no longer means anything in such prayer, which is carried on in instants of its own, instants that can last a second or an hour without our being able to distinguish one from another. For this prayer belongs less to time than to eternity.”

– Thomas Merton, No Man Is An Island

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