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~ In Praise of Prayer ~

        Watching people watch television is very interesting. Sometimes you find a TV watcher who appears to have fallen asleep. You switch the channel or turn the TV off. The person immediately opens his eyes, remarking "Hey, I was watching that !" You incredulously respond that he was sleeping. Actually, he wasn't and he's right. His brain was indeed engaged in the mesmerism of the TV.

        Sometimes you'll observe a person staring at a TV screen showing something totally irrelevant to the person's interest. That doesn't matter, as long as the TV is on. In many households, the TV is turned on immediately upon waking up and stays on in the background even if no one is watching it. Shut it off and within minutes members of the household sense something is missing, and the emptiness is disturbing. They discover the "problem" and soon the TV is back on.

        How many times have you entered a home and found all the furniture oriented to the TV? How often do you sit to converse and eyes keep shifting to the TV, regardless of the program? TV has attained the notoriety of being the great babysitter. Children sit quite still in front of it (the closer the better, you may have noted). Their breathing slows down. Their eyes blink less frequently and more slowly. They are quiet. They are not immediately responsive to the call of their names. Attach electrodes to their scalp and the EEG monitor will show alpha brain waves. They are literally in a hypnotic state of consciousness. Two or four hours of TV feel like ten minutes. Many Americans and Europeans stare at TV for eight hours a day. So powerful is this electronic drug that most American homes, even of those living below the poverty line, have more than one TV. Many homes have one in every room. (In the US, 96% of households have indoor toilets while 98% have at least one TV.)

        In a strange but poignant way, TV is a witness to the praise and power of prayer.  Although mesmerization or altered states of conscious has been associated with something evil in some Christian circles, biblical literature speaks frequently and positively of them. The visions of the prophets are given in altered consciousness. St. Peter spoke of being in prayer leading to a trance state when he received the vision while on his roof and St. Paul couldn't say whether he was in the body or not when he glimpsed the marvels of the third heaven, and also wrote of prayer trances. St. John was "in the Spirit" when he received the great apocalyptic revelation. First martyr Stephen was in a state of ecstasy, gazing into the open heavens, while being stone to death.

        Altered consciousness is vital and powerful. Its content may be from God or from the secular media through the TV screen and that's the critical difference. When we rest in the loving presence of a family member or friend, a truly ego-crucified holy person, or in the sacred milieu of God's creation by the ocean surf or on a misty mountain, if our state of mind or consciousness doesn't change, we are self-absorbed, disengaged from the other. That's not good. That's not communion.

        Taking all this further, if our consciousness state doesn't shift out of self-awareness or self-absorption when we are in prayerful communion with the Lord and Creator of all, then something is profoundly wrong. Yes, God hears everything we utter or think, but everything we say or think does not constitute prayer. That's why Jesus' apostles, who knew by memory the hundreds of prayers used in the Jewish worship liturgies, learned they were not really praying. They realized that after watching Jesus closely. So they asked Him, "Lord, teach us to pray."

        At the risk of offending sensibilities, please consider whether quick recitals over meals are truly conscious-altering prayers; whether the customary introduction to a sermon is truly prayer, and whether the customary conclusion to a sermon, more often than not really is a continuation of the sermon that summarizes its major points, is prayer.

        Jesus instructed us to pray in His name, as we must do all things, but He didn't say to end each prayer with the words, "In Jesus name." If someone omits that formal ending, many feel something is missing, that the prayer has not been somehow "legitimized." The sons of Sciva attempted an exorcism in the name of Jesus the Christ, and were mocked and beaten by the entities they were addressing. When someone is praying or giving another a drink of water in Jesus name, we know it, we feel it, for His name is power. Not to be misunderstood, I end my prayers with the name of Christ on my lips and in my heart. But I also know that just adding "in His name" doesn't make what I said a prayer.

        Interesting how Jesus didn't systemize His spiritual practices. We humans love to systemize and label. Consequently we have prayers of petition, supplication, thanksgiving, contemplation, centering, contrition, and others. Also interesting is that we don't structure our conversations with loved ones in categories and stages, but we often do with our Beloved Father. Admittedly, structure is needed for liturgical prayers in community. However, when we go alone into our prayer "closet," as Jesus put it, it's time and the place for total self-abandonment in profound, consciousness changing intimacy in the infinite depths of the Heart of our God, in the inner sanctuary of the Holy of Holies!

        Ah, it is there where we live in God's time, where ten hours feels like a minute and a minute like hours. It is there where we are shrouded in God's glory, like the holy wind that blows right through us which Jesus used to describe the Holy Spirit. Our cheeks may drip with cathartic tears, our tongues and thoughts frozen in awe.

        God's glory is indeed hypnotic and overwhelming, a Presence intoxicating body, soul and spirit. We are in the treasure storeroom of the sanctuary and Wisdom doesn't speak as much as it saturates. This is not the time to figure it out. That will come later, when we give form to the Wisdom God imparts in prayer with words and thoughts, bit by bit.

        In such a state of prayer, the trivial whinings of ego-based complaints and wants are evaporated in the intense Light of Christ. The same Light exposes the wretchedness of our sins. We look upon them with the same pain with which God beholds them. How could we permit ourselves to grieve our sacrificial Father who is Love itself? Out of this mutual pain, repentance and contriteness of heart spring forth quickly, grateful for the healing balm of forgiveness and a renewed heart.

        We feel the strength and assurance of being in the very center of our Father's will, for His will is precisely this being in prayer, in selfless communion, in adoration, in intimacy. We peer out from that center and receive a knowing of His will for many areas of our lives. In this holy communion of prayer, Christ's frequent promise of "Ask what you will and it will be given" loses the status of a self-serving promise, transforming into a blessed certainty that whatever we ask of our Father has already been anticipated and done…for we are so absorbed in Him that whatever we think, feel, desire is of Him, rooted in the greatest commandments of loving Him and others, and therefore in His will and pleasure.

        In the Father's resplendent presence, the desires of our hearts which He says will be granted to those who delight in Him, cannot be anything but the desires of His heart also, for spirits in mystical union, spirits abiding in one another, share the same desires and their wills converge. One is the Christ and the other is conformed to Him, is like Him. Thus there is an agreement of wills, an agreement invested with the power and intention of the very One whose Word spoke all things into being.

        Within the Holy of Holies of prayer, we feel a paradoxical mix of trembling fear in the glory of such power and love and a supreme longing of wanting to remain forever in such a state of grace, loving attention and communion. We want to keep saying with the Psalmist, "Bless the Lord, o my soul, and all that is within me. Bless his holy name!" (103:1)…"How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh cry out for the living God…Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere" (84:1-2, 10a, NIV).

        Returning to the consciousness altering power of TV, that analogy is limited but useful. TV and its screen players have been idolized, and idolatry is a grievous sin. Many people approach the TV god ready to pay homage for a specific time length, 2 hours, 4 hours, an entire afternoon or evening or even day. They come prepared with their sacraments of snacks and drinks. They are committed to the TV for the specified time and are sure to make arrangements to minimize or eliminate distractions. They know they cannot hurry the TV broadcasts, so there is no such thing as watching TV in a hurry to make time for something else, any more than someone would listen to favorite music at triple speed so he would save more time for praying.

        The prayer communion described requires much more devotion and attention than one's TV or hobby or other pastime. It needs a committed time length that cannot be hurried, and entered with preparation and soul-hungry anticipation, as one would approach a dinner feast. Our Father is so patient, humble and loving. He will listen to our cries, questions, pain, joys, requests and words of gratitude and worshipful adoration. Our Father also wants to speak to us, for us to be still and listen to His wisdom, consolations, directions, loving whispers and His own pain and burdens He takes upon Himself for our sakes. His powerful glory infuses our spirits and bodies. The inner sanctuary of prayer fills with His Light, piercing the core of our being. After many solitudes in communion, we find ourselves becoming increasingly prayer itself, living, walking, talking prayers - as our bodies become the living sacrifices Paul speaks about. We grow into more Christlikeness. And that, delightfully, is God's will - and ours.

 (Writer's anonymity requested)

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Weekly Reflections © April 6, 2002

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