By Sister Marcella Clancy
Father Ron Rolheiser describes a man who thought he lost his faith. He went to an old Jesuit known for his wisdom. The priest said, “All I can offer is this: “Place yourself in God’s presence for an hour every day. Stay, even if God does not show up.”
The man left disappointed, but desperate, he did what the Jesuit advised. After a month his problem completely disappeared. He could not identify the moment or hour, the day a shift had happened but it had. He had no visions, no special insights and no revelations but something had changed in him. This story highlights aspects of an indispensable prayer.
- Prayer is not efficient. I am not talking about a specific form of prayer that many of us learned in religious education: the prayer of praise or adoration, thanksgiving, petition, or sorrow for sin. I am talking about the prayer when I simply make myself available for God, grant God an expanse of time to inundate to me. The purpose of this prayer is to stretch myself out in front of God and wait. I can’t even specifically tell you what I am waiting for or if I know when my waiting has been answered. Yet, there is a difference in my life when I am faithful to this practice and when I am not.
- Prayer is not productive or measurable. So many questions arise: Is it “working”? Am I fooling myself? Is anything is “happening”? And, of course the there is no answer except to believe God is faithful. The breaking-in of God is not earned or deserved. It is always, always a gratuitous gift. I have talked enough to others to know that there is always the temptation when I feel “prayer is good”, I did something right and when “prayer is empty”, I did something wrong. Which is a subversive way of claiming credit rather than recognizing all depends on God’s enormous goodness.
- Prayer is inclusive by its nature. Prayer is not disembodied, private or individualistic. Prayer isn’t selfish. In the very act of being available to God we create a breach for God to flow into all the wounded, broken spaces in our world, into all the dark spaces where violence and hatred breed. In pondering about this blog, I was keenly aware of all the strife, anger, divisiveness, and civil unrest present in our country. Should I explore how I, as a Sister of St. Joseph, am complicit in this troubling time? For it is incompatible with the Gospel to be silent regarding injustice. Yet unless those words are bathed by prayer they may only add to the anger and violence. I cannot “see” the difference my prayer makes in my world, no more than I can “measure” the difference it makes in me. To open to God’s consuming love is to open the world to that same transforming fire.
- Prayer is transformative. Prayer changes us, not all at once but gradually, quietly. In prayer God works undetected, secretly, under the cover of silence and in our depths. Prayer is not always peaceful and lovely. Prayer is an essential part of the process of being made whole and oftentimes our personal demons and resistances arise. They come to God within, like beggars, wanting to be healed. Our responsibility is to welcome them to the table of our heart.
We pray to praise and thank God, to ask God for what we and the world needs, to seek forgiveness and healing. Yet one of the primary purposes of prayer, not mentioned in our religious education classes, is to marinade and bask in God. Prayer gradually changes our face into the face of God, our presence into the presence of God’s love. To pray is a courageous act of trust. Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin urges us, “Above all trust in the slow work of God… Give Our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.”
About the Author
Sister Marcella Clancy, CSJ, has degrees in nursing and theology. In the past she ministered in hospitals, taught nursing and theology at the college level and served in parishes in the Archdiocese of Detroit. Currently, Sister Marcella ministers as a spiritual director, facilitates retreats and offers presentations through Transformation Spirituality Center at our Nazareth Center in Kalamazoo.