The spiritual masters, including St. Paul of the Cross can be often heard saying “When you are aware that you are praying, you are not praying very deeply.” At first blush this may appear to be a surprising statement. Yet, we can all recall doing something without appearing to pay attention to it.
Perhaps one of the most obvious experiences is in driving a car. We drive along the way to our destination and then suddenly realize we don’t “remember” going through the past three towns which were on the way; and yet, we didn’t have an accident along the way.
The same can be true of praying, while deliberate, responsive prayer provides proof we are praying, some of the most powerful prayer experiences go unnoticed. A great example of what St. Paul is saying is the ministry of presence. Remember what it is like when you visit a friend or family member in hospital, where you just sit together in silence, without a need to say or do anything, and yet, we are often praying very deeply purely by being in their presence. These are prayers without agenda, just sitting at the foot of the Cross with them, being available, a friendly soul being just what is needed. A soul friend.
John O’Donohue, the Irish writer and poet, wrote extensively on this type of friendship in his best selling book Aman Cara (Gaelic for Soul Friend), where he describes this relationship and the deep prayer life which results.
Another encounter we often have is when the beauty of nature captures our imagination. This prayer of beauty enters our soul in a way we cannot describe, yet we know this of God and we respond with loving admiration or gratitude. The gift was given to us by God, and we are notified with a real recognition of beauty. For myself, photography is one way of holding these moments as they occur, (I almost always have a camera with me), and then I can go back and reflect on the gift recorded by the camera.
Perhaps this Easter we can consider some of those times in our lives when we find ourselves praying deeply without noticing those moments. Reflecting on the week just past.
Just as I did this past week looking at a “wood-pile” shelter built in a clearing. Perhaps this shelter was an intentional prayer in itself, one where the builders could return to the gift they provided for others as they need it.