I have been writing about the Prayer of Recollection. If you have begun and continue to practice this prayer consistently, you may have noticed some things; maybe some potholes along the path; maybe some flowers, too. How we respond to each of these will be important for our growth in prayer.
One of these, as I mentioned before, are distractions. Again, I want to emphasize that distractions are normal, and to some extent, in the work of prayer, we will always have them. It’s important not to be mad at yourself about distractions in prayer. They are what the human mind does. In this prayer, we are training the mind to remain with God in a conscious, continual way for a time, so that we might grow in intimacy, love, and knowledge of the Lord, the “Friend who we know loves us,” as St. Teresa of Avila calls Him.
Our Friend knows our minds are unruly, that we are anxious and worried about many things. He knows. You have chosen the better part, though, and it will not be taken from you. He will complete the good work He has begun in you. He Himself will fight for you. You have only to remain still.
So when distractions come, recognize them, and gently bring yourself back to the presence of the Lord, over and over again. I promise it gets easier as your mind comes more under control with practice. And God will give you strength.
Another pothole along the road of prayer is aptly called aridity, or dryness. Prayer starts to feel like reading the phone book. Remember that St. John of the Cross teaches us that prayer is the secret, quiet inflow of God. Sometimes that quiet inflow is even secret to ourselves. It feels like nothing is happening, or that prayer is painful and empty. This is when we go on trusting that God is in us and working in us whether we have any sense of that or not. As I am fond of saying, the quality of our prayer, and God’s power to work His will in us is not limited by our personal perception or experience of how “well” prayer is going. Do tell God how you feel and ask Him for what you need. St. Teresa said we need determined determination to continue on the Royal Road of prayer. I think of it as the dogged pursuit of God in prayer. The mystics of our faith say that God deepens our prayer and blesses us all the more for our faithfulness and love for Him in times of aridity. Be strong and take heart. God is with you.
The opposites of dry spells in prayer are usually called consolations. You may sometimes feel a deep sense of peace and joy when you pray, intense love or even feelings of euphoria. You may experience the sensible closeness or touch of God on your soul. You may receive flashes of understanding or the unravelling of a difficulty. There is nothing wrong with these things. Carmelite wisdom says enjoy them while they last, but don’t try to cling to them or perpetuate them. Understand that these experiences come and go. Try to be peaceful and accepting when they stop. These are wonderful gifts. They draw us closer to God within and away from outward show. God gives us this sweetness from time to time. Consolations can be very healing and inspiring. When these good things are withdrawn, though, we need to allow them to go easily. Simply continue the prayer, with your focus on the Giver. In this way, you will be learning to love Him more and more for Who He is in Himself, whatever He gives or does not give.
When consolations come, then, just smile, be thankful, receive. Then let go as easily as a breath. Keep loving, keep praying, keep present. If we practice this easiness about the presence or absence of consolations, our prayer life grows immeasurably.
As Our Lord said to St. Angela of Foligno, “Make of yourself a capacity and I will make of Myself a torrent.”
He’s kind of sneaky so His torrent could feel any number of ways to us. But if we persevere in prayer, we will see the fruits of it in what Gandhi called “the total transformation of character, conduct, and consciousness.” These are the fruits of the life of prayer.
All God wants of man, is a peaceful heart. ~ Miester Ekhart
If we dispose ourselves to Him, in the way St. Teresa has taught us, and we don’t give up, then He will surely come to us, and we will grow in awareness of His indwelling.