The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Be Still!

Working at the soup kitchen this morning, I was kept very busy from the moment I arrived until I limped toward the car hours later to drive home with dear Diane. I was limping because when I climbed out of bed in the darkness of the early morning, I stubbed my toe against a chair and broke it (the toe, not the chair). It hurt all morning, although not horribly, and I didn't realize it was broken until I got home, took off my shoes, and saw this rather ugly black and blue appendage on my foot. Naturally, from that very moment the pain increased measurably.

Usually, after a long morning at the soup kitchen, I spend a few quiet minutes with the Lord, thanking Him for allowing us to do His work. Then I talk a lot and listen a bit as He and I examine the challenges and opportunities facing me. It's always a nice time for me because it slows me down, helps me put my worries and concerns into perspective, and leads me to focus on God's will rather than my own...well, usually. But today, because of the ugly, broken toe, I did nothing. Feeling sorry for myself, I put off prayer, along with all the other items on my to-do list, sat down in my big, overstuffed easy chair, put my feet up, and turned on the TV to watch the news or whatever else seemed interesting.

That's when I remembered the penance my confessor gave me during my last confession. After listening to the sorrowful litany of my sins -- none of which I need repeat here -- the good father said, "For your penance, be still! Take some time, just ten minutes every day or two is enough, to be with God in the stillness of His world. And listen! I know you know how to pray to God, but do you know how to pray with God? Be still and let Him teach you."

Arrggghhh...and then I could almost hear my dear, departed mother's voice saying, "So you broke your toe? Offer it up!" And so, with the Holy Spirit and my mother conspiring to renew me, I turned off the TV, put my feet on the floor, and entered, if only partially, into God's stillness.

"Be still and know that I am God." 

We've all heard these words from Psalm 46:11 probably hundreds of times, but how often do we actually do what they command? We're so busy in our lives that we rarely take the time to be still. But it's worse than that. Many of us are so attuned to lives of busyness that we've come to believe stillness is just another form of laziness. The world frowns on those who spend too much time doing "non-productive" things. Doctors may caution workaholics, but bosses love them. And I suspect more people follow their boss' advice rather than their doctor's advice. This leads far too many of us to define ourselves by our work. Indeed, once we learn a person's name, often the next question we ask is, "What do you do?" (Except here in our large Florida retirement community, where it's "What did you do?") The next time someone asks you that question, just reply, "I stay busy with God, working out my salvation." I'll bet you'll get some interesting reactions.

Yes, our worldly work -- as opposed to our spiritual work -- can overwhelm us to the point that we distort our understanding of success in life to mean "getting ahead" in whatever profession or line of work we happen to find ourselves. We forget that as Christians, no, as human beings loved by God, success should really mean holiness and accepting God's gift of salvation. And this means getting to know God through prayer. 

Of course, we can pray anytime, even during the busiest of life's moments. But deep meditative or contemplative prayer demands stillness. It forces us to step away from our world and enter God's world, for only then can we hear what He has to tell us.

I can't tell you how many people have told me they're "too busy to pray." I find it particularly curious that many who say this are retired, and have no trouble finding their way to the golf course several times a week. Now, there's nothing wrong with golf -- well, there would be if I ever played, but fortunately for the golfers of the world I don't -- but we must make room in our lives for that which should take top priority, our salvation. I've come to the conclusion that most people who don't have a regular prayer life are simply afraid of the stillness. They're afraid of shutting out the world, if only for a few moments, because they really do not want to be forced to confront themselves or God.

I'm not an expert, but I can share some experts with you. If you want to deepen your prayer life -- and all of us should want to do that --here are a few books that helped me:

Deep Conversion / Deep Prayer, by Thomas Dubay, S. M. (2006). Father Dubay, who died last year, was a noted spiritual director and retreat master. Here he shares his advice on the spiritual life in straightforward, readable prose.

The Fulfillment of All Desire, by Ralph Martin (2006). Ralph Martin, a leader in Renewal Ministries and an Assistant Professor of Theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, has written this wonderful book that leads the reader on a spiritual journey using the teaching of several Doctors of the Church. 

Learning to Pray, by Bernard Bro, O. P. (1966).  This book, now out of print, can still be found online. I first read it almost 40 years ago and it, along with the book that follows, represented my introduction to the spiritual life. Fr. Bro, a distinguished theologian, is perhaps the world's greatest expert on St. Therese of Lisieux. I've reread this book several times over the years.

Introduction to Spirituality, by Louis Bouyer (1961). Another Frenchman and noted theologian, Fr. Bouyer, who died in 2004, wrote extensively on liturgy and spirituality. This book, really a practical manual, provides a wonderful introduction to prayer and spirituality. Fr. Bouyer was raised in a French Protestant family, became a Lutheran minister, and was eventually received into the Catholic Church in 1944.

Let me conclude by sharing some thoughts on prayer by Fr. Bro:
"When God leads a man to a state of poverty, is this not always to bring about an increase of love? ... Prayer does more than make us aware of our limitations: it transforms that part of our life that weighs us down and crushes us, and changes the nature of this poverty...Prayer, after bringing us to accept our limitations and making us aware of our real need, it transforms that need, that deficiency, that poverty into a dependence upon someone else. Love will not rest until it achieves its goal: to share everything in order to bring about the unity toward which it tends...Love needs the need of another. It nourishes itself and continues to exist on the awareness of this need within itself. God likewise needs our need. Thus, the poverty which before crushed us now becomes, through prayer, a source of wealth, by which we gain possession of the heart of God. To refuse to recognize one's own poverty, is not to recognize God; it means refusing to allow him to be God for us. For me, God is God only when I accept the fact that I need him...thus our poverty becomes a source of wealth, provided that we are conscious every day that I am in the night, but I am no longer in prison, I am no longer alone." -- Bernard Bro, O.P.
 Be still and enjoy the peace that God wants for you...

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