“In contemplation God teaches the soul very quietly and secretly, without its knowing how, without the sound of words” (Chapter 39, The Spiritual Canticle).
In the spirit of St. John of the Cross, this blog reflects on the contemplative experience and the poetic experience, sometimes separately and distinctly, sometimes in common, as mutually enlightening.
I will also post to this blog, from time to time, my own poetry, with a short interpretive note attached.
~ Fr. Bonaventure Sauer, OCD
Sat, Jul 13 2019
This is how you are to pray:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven…
As a student at the University of Illinois, like most others I used to go home for the weekend every so often. For me, though, that meant only an hour’s ride by bus across the cornfields of the Illinois prairie. It would be late Friday afternoon. I’d be cruising along, quietly ensconced in my seat on the bus, looking out the window. Usually the sun would be sinking in the West, the sky softening as night drew near streaked with the varied reds of sunset. And all around, of course, was the far expanse of the prairie.
Gliding along, gazing out the window of the bus, feeling almost as though suspended in time, I’d sometimes feel, if only for a brief moment, as if something truly wonderful or miraculous, something world-redeeming or revelatory, were about to happen—and I were set to be its witness. Of course, nothing ever did, except maybe the desire itself. But that in itself was wonderful enough—a moment charged with such expectancy and longing.
As I think back on such moments, and others like them, from my vantage point today, I believe God was teaching me through these moments how to pray. Of course, the
moments were not, in themselves, prayer, at least not explicitly. But by them God was, nonetheless, softening the earth of my soul, readying it for prayer. And when, through the gift of His Word awakening my understanding, God began to rain down a clearer, more defined awareness of Himself—doing so through preaching, church life and practice, the example of other people, my participation in Eucharist—then it become easy to see whom and what I had, through all these years, been longing for.
“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” It was that final, full Sabbath of God’s goodness, of his love and peace, celebrated by all creation, there where we shall at last be able to truly keep holy the Father’s name—this was that something wonderful and miraculous, world-redeeming and revelatory, that seemed just about to happen, although delayed once more, but happening, nonetheless, in my desire for it.
And so by God’s help we learn inwardly how to pray, not by a multiplication of words, but to pray by means of a longing that is also a way of paying quiet, loving attention to the one who knows our needs even before we ask—indeed, who has what we might call a”grand plan” for each and all of us. We learn to pray, that is, by means of a longing that is also a way of waiting expectantly upon God as though upon something or someone wonderful and miraculous, world-redeeming and revelatory just about to happen.
We wait, in other words, that His Will be done upon earth. We learn to pray as though standing upon the verge of God’s kingdom, where we can let God’s desire for that kingdom take root in our lives and bear fruit in time.
We all undoubtedly have our own stories of such moments in our lives where, it is clear to us now, God was there teaching us how to pray—softening the earth, readying the soil. And when, with the gift of further formation in God’s Word, God implants His desire in our hearts, then, as though from a wellspring, He can began to bring forth that fruit of grace He has instilled in us through prayer.
It is the fruit of His Will being done upon earth whenever we are true to our truest selves and deepest longings. After all, without such an inner teaching from God’s Holy Spirit, the OurFather is itself just a multiplication of words. But our Lord has given it to us to be a Word that speaks his desire for us. Thus, He catches up our own deepest longing for Him and makes of it true prayer.
Written by Fr. Bonaventure, OCD