Saturday, June 21, 2014

Just Show Up

I have been wondering what it must be like for a nun, committed to regular prayer in her choir stall, on those days when she just doesn't want to show up.

Surely there are such days.  Being made of the same flesh as every other human being, certainly nuns and monks face times when they feel low, under the weather, distracted, or just not in the mood to pray right now.  Like the rest of us, they can sometimes feel dry; disconnected.  

"It's encouraging that even this imperfect, distracted, dutiful prayer is valuable to the Lord and allows Him to work in our lives,"  writes Ralph Martin.  "As St. Teresa of Avila puts it:  'after I had made this effort, I found myself left with greater quiet and delight than sometimes when I had the desire to pray.'  Teresa witnesses to the fact that even if we are not fully attentive in our prayer, little by little, even imperfect prayer will change us.  Simply 'showing up'  for prayer time evidences our desire to be with the Lord.  Even though sometimes it seems that we are more there physically than spiritually, our desire allows Him to draw us closer.  Even if our prayer doesn't seem to be bearing fruit on the level of our conscious intellect, it may very well bear fruit on the level of strengthening our will."  (Ralph Martin, The Fulfillment of All Desire, Emmaus Road Publishing, Steubenville, 2006, p. 284)

"Even if our prayer doesn't seem to be bearing fruit on the level of our conscious intellect, it may very well bear fruit on the level of strengthening our will." 

Our friend Jane's will was surely strengthened by the following experience, which she wrote of in a 1997 letter:  "I was feeling very discouraged with myself for not feeling a greater love for Jesus.  Theoretically I knew the 'feeling' is a gift from Him and not an indication of our actual love.  But still I was concerned that I just didn't love Him enough. Then I came across something St. Gertrude had written about experiencing the same fear.  She complained to Him that her heart was just a 'block of ice.'  That struck me especially as how I felt exactly -  a frozen block of ice.  In my case, just a little chip.  I couldn't get that idea out of my mind.  It gradually became clear to me that this world is really a dry, burning desert in which Jesus searches unendingly for souls.  I implored Him, since I was just a block of ice, to pick me up and press me to His lips.  When the fire of His love melted me, to please drink the water formed by it... in that way, I would be able to refresh Him and quench His thirst.  That thought filled me with such joy, I went around all day rejoicing that I was indeed a block of ice, for as long as I am totally at His disposal, I can refresh Him.  Now when I recognize that He is keeping consolations from me, I just smile to myself - knowing that as long as I trust Him patiently, my piece of ice will bring Him greater joy by my submission to His will.'  (Jane)

"Little by little, even imperfect prayer will change us."   

Thanks be to God, this is true.  As long as we just show up.   

Painting of nun: Paul E. Harney
Painting of women in church:  Wilhelm Leibl, 1882   

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