Saturday, December 16, 2006


I'm interested in the idea of prayerlessness or "dryness" as it has been used in church and in discussions of things spiritual. The usual response is to be somewhat critical and to take onesself or others to task for not praying enough, or not praying "from the heart." Perhaps in a tactful way, but still, to extol the lives of those "prayer warriors," to quote familiar maxims- "the family that prays together stays together," "prayer is the best medicine."

I'm wondering if these kinds of responses don't deserve the indignant outburst or surreptitious snicker behind the hand that might be more common if we weren't so worried about not appearing unspiritual. Should I really just expect myself to be able to plow on through, get on my knees, put together words day after day in some way that seems to me increasingly vapid- yet all unto God? Do we really need that kind of prayer?

What is the most honest response I can have to a lack of desire to pray?

What if I, quite simply, didn't pray?

He maketh darkness his covert. What? God does not dwell in houses made by human hands. Why should I expect to continue to feel "in the presence of God" when what my eyes are increasingly fixed on my ability to form words correctly, on the appropriate-ness of my prayer, on the frequency of my prayer, on how acceptable my prayer is to its listeners, on my willingness and desire to pray? On the fabrications and forms of the visible and sensory which, while they go a certain distance in orienting me toward the Unkowable, can't really bridge the gap.

Could my words become fewer and fewer, until blessedly, the burden of hurling requests and soulful declarations skyward, hoping desperately that they please God and echo his will, disappears and the darkness of Him who transcends these things surrounds me and says simply "Ssshhh..."

We could try to counter this prayerlessness with Scripture based admonitions and examples of people more spiritual than ourselves. But what if non-prayer is, more often than we think, the most God-oriented prayer we have?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

28 Questions About Prayer

  • Does prayer mean more if it's out loud?
  • Does prayer have to consist of words?
  • Is there such thing a prayer of silence?
  • Do I have to use hackneyed language that I hear in church every week in my prayer?
  • Could action be prayer?
  • Could I have a very deep, sustaining prayer life and still, for whatever reason, feel uncomfortable praying out loud in a group?
  • Does prayer have to be theologically sound?
  • Is more prayer preferable, or is better prayer?
  • Is prayerlessness actually a prayer, or could it be transformed into one?
  • Is spiritual "dryness"- lack of desire to pray- best remedied by simply forcing it out?
  • Does noise hinder prayer?
  • Do children running around noisily inhibit deep, reflective prayer?
  • Is it more important in prayer that you give, or that you receive; that you "do for God" or that God "does for you?"
  • Is prayerfulness a sign of spiritual advancement, or qualification of some kind?
  • Does anyone practice the discipline of silence in church anymore?
  • Is liturgical prayer less efficacious because it's "just by rote?"
  • Is there one best way to open, or close, a prayer?
  • Should it matter to me in the slightest what anyone else thinks of my prayer if I'm praying in a group?
  • Is prayer without accompanying action rather vain and self-absorbed?
  • Is prayer that is louder, more emotive, or more "on-fire" necessarily more heartfelt and effective?
  • How come very few Christians "let their words be few" and so many "pray like the heathen?"
  • Speaking of heathens, can we expect God to ignore the prayers of people who don't pray "in Christ's name?"
  • Do very verbose prayers really come from a desire for dialogue with God, or are they just a way of quelling anxiety?
  • In a prayer group, does someone have to start talking right away?
  • In a prayer group, do the most "leader-ly" and the most extroverted people need to start us off and close us?
  • In a prayer group, is it okay to demand that everyone pray? (your turn...)
  • Should prayers, regardless of content, be authentically aimed at a higher, better, realer knowledge of God's love for his people, and at bringing out an appropriate response in us? Is any other type of prayer just missing the point and doing a disservice to onesself and to God?
  • How incredibly naked and real is St. Teresa of Avila's prayer: Oh, God, I don’t love you. I don’t even want to love you, but I want to want to love you.

I am a novice in "real" prayer. Yet some of these questions seem to answer themselves. Anyone have any questions to add?

Monday, December 11, 2006

Everything that is, is Holy

Thus opens the first chapter of Thomas Merton's Seeds of Contemplation. The created cosmos contains nothing mundane. All is sacred. All is holy. Time, canyons, protozoans, dogs, fire, architecture, language. Artists and poets know this. Noticers know this. Those who are too caught up in being somewhere else, too anxious that their surroundings and company are not spiritual enough, too insistent on mentally classifying things as "high" or "low," don't know this.

Do you think that a saint has to excuse his interest in created things by tripping himself up in his language and introducing a lot of uselessly explicit references to God whenever he talks or thinks about the world and what is in it? A saint is capable of talking about the world without any explicit reference to God, in such a way that his statement gives greater glory to God and arouses a greater love of God than the observations of someone less holy, who has to strain himself to make an arbitrary connection between creatures and God through the medium of hackneyed analogies and metaphors that are so stupid they make you think there is something the matter with religion.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

...after all, he was rather monkish

Why does the practice of an "interior life" seem to be, historically, an essential one to becoming a different kind of person? Because certainly I need to become different if I'm going to live in the other kingdom, the one that's not of this world. So why did St. John Chrysostom nearly conclude that it was impossible to be saved unless you went into the desert? Thomas Merton:

Although it is true that perfection consists in imitating Christ and reproducing Him in our own lives, it will not take us very far on the way to perfection merely to imitate the Christ that we have in our imaginations... Therefore if you want to have in your heart the affections and dispositions that were those of Christ on earth, consult not your own imagination but faith. Enter into darkness of interior renunciation, strip your soul of images, and let Christ form Himself in you by His cross.

There is a bumper sticker that proclaims "Jesus was a liberal." The temptation to make Christ in our own image is strong. The liner notes to Jethro Tull's Aqualung put it admirably:

1: In the beginning Man created God; and in the image of Man created he him.
2: And Man gave unto God a multitude of names, that he might be Lord over all the earth when it was suited to Man.
3: And on the seven millionth day Man rested and did lean heavily on his God and saw that it was good.
4: And Man formed Aqualung of the dust of the ground, and a host of others likened unto his kind.
5: And these lesser men Man did cast into the void. And some were burned; and some were put apart from their kind.
6: And Man became the God that he had created and with his miracles did rule over all the earth.
7: But as all these things did come to pass, the Spirit that did cause man to create his God lived on within all men: even within Aqualung.
8: And man saw it not.
9: But for Christ's sake he better start looking.

Saturday, December 9, 2006


The deserts of one section of the world have been the site of much war and bloodshed, particularly in the past few years. There has been much said of this war, and of peace, and much of what is said on either and any side (often vainly) invokes God's name, will, or purpose.

Thomas Merton writes:

If men really wanted peace they would ask God and He would give it to them. But why should he give the world a peace which it does not really desire?...To practically everybody peace simply means the absence of any physical violence that might cast a shadow over lives devoted to the satisfaction of their animal appetites for comfort and pleasure. Many men like these have asked God for what they thought was "peace" and wondered why their prayer was not answered. They could not understand that it actually was answered. God left them with what they desired, for their idea of peace was only another form of war. So instead of loving what you think is peace, love other men and love God above all. And instead of hating the people you think are warmakers, hate the appetites and the disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war.

Into The Desert

This blog will be aimed at giving insight through short entries, often responding to an excerpt from a book. Occasionally I foresee responding to other blog entries, or to art and culture.

This blogger is operating under the notion that the Body of Christ is in need of a robust practice of silence and contemplation. That knowledge of the Father cannot come through the Son unless the noisy inner competition ceases. That the Christian life cannot be practically lived unless one travels "into the desert."

This blog will serve as a reflective surface for the "wilderness" meetings in which the blogger is given, well, something to reflect about.

Most of all, this blogger seeks to use this reflective surface as a vehicle of response.