31 January 2011


I remember the first time I ever prayed - I feared that a certain terrifying event might follow certain immoral behaviour of mine.  I prayed intensely that it might not be so (it wasn't :-)).

The odd thing is that if at the time - I was only 16, I think - anyone had asked me whether I believed in God, I would have laughed and said "of course not!" - so natural is it to ask for help when we have passed the hope of human efforts.

When I first believed in Christ, at the very end of 1969, and began to receive advice from mature Christians to dedicate a time each morning that my Campus Crusade for Christ called my 'quiet time,' and that I should spend that time in Bible reading and prayer.

The Bible reading part I understood.  I began then a regime which I have continued pretty continuously of reading the Bible through once a year.  That is not my only Bible-reading, but it is a basic background to the rest - of study, meditation, reading books about the Bible.  I have ever been glad that I have done this.

The prayer part I really did not.  I thought, I suppose, the same thing about prayer as I had at age 16: prayer is the way we ask for things from God that we cannot do ourselves.  I began a routine of praying for the conversion of persons.  At one point - I have abandoned this since - I had a large set of 5" x 3" file cards with names on them, and I prayed through these regularly.  I did not, it is true, have a very clear idea what such prayer should consist of - but I did pray for the salvation of others; I still do, of course.

Nevertheless, the whole business seemed, in a way, artificial.  God knows, surely, that men need to be saved.  The Father knows, Jesus tells us, what we have need of.

As I understood more of Christianity, I read that the reason for prayer is for us - the ones praying - to be changed.  This, I am sure, is so.  Yet I really didn't think that my prayer was changing me very much.

When I became a Catholic, what I heard about prayer began to change - ultimately to change pretty fundamentally.  Prayer, I was told, was a way for me to get to know God - as a man gets to know his friend, I was often told.

I am a slow learner.  Only this week-end did I reflect on what to know God means and implies:
...then shall I know even as also I am known (I Cor 13:12)
...we shall see him as he is. (I John 3:2)
and above all:
...this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent (John 17:3)
I cannot say that any of this has made prayer any easier.  In a way, it makes it harder.  The number of ways I have of deceiving myself in prayer is legion.  I think, "I want to know God."  Well, there is the Bible.  I read the Bible - but find I am actually more involved in theologising - or historicising - or even doing linguistic analysis - then finding God there.  I can talk to God - so readily I am talking to an idol of my own creation, a sort of idea of God.  I can listen to God - oh, the temptations there!  Feelings?  Are these God?  Thoughts?  Are they from God or just from me (or from a lower source!)?  Often, what I call listening to God is just being in kind of revery - the state that Ste Teresa warned her readers against, sitting there in silence como unus estupidos - which I think means, rather than like stupid people, something akin to like stunned mullets, if I may use a New Zealand colloquialism.

I must not rest in seeking.  Seek and ye shall find; knock and the door shall be opened unto you.  But I know what I am looking for now - or, rather, Whom.  Prayer is not, in a way, the means to an end; if prayer is knowing God, then prayer is the end.  It is what we are made for.

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