(I have not written here in quite some time and it is not clear why. I can only hope that it is not the result of some negligence on my part, a failure to listen to the Spirit or a selfish use of my time. It could easily be both. Yet it also seems that God periodically puts me on sabbatical and gives me something else to do – or perhaps simply begs me to be silent. In any event, I have returned and we will see whether He permits me to write…)
I am getting older – which is what happens to all of us until we die – and I find myself cherishing the experience. I can probably only do so because my aches and pains are minimal. Not being at all good at suffering, I must enjoy my maturity while I can.
One thing that often comes with age is the tendency to repeat oneself. It seems to get harder and harder to track what I have said to who. I recall one dear patient so tactfully letting me know that I had offered them the same pearls of wisdom the week before – but, of course, it was good advice.
Now I often preface my words with “have we discussed this before?” or “let me know if I am repeating myself”. Although I may intentionally repeat a suggestion I consider of particular value, especially when it has not been heeded, I do not want to become a bore.
In my travels through life, it seems that I actually have less and less to say. One would think it should be just the opposite – so many experiences and thoughts catalogued for the sharing.
Those who have the misfortune of being trapped in the therapy room with me as I expound ad nauseam may question the veracity of this claim. What comes out there is, I hope, the Holy Spirit at work. If it is just me rambling on, I am certainly in trouble.
Part of the change, I sense, comes with learning that my opinions are of little significance. I remember being quite the debater of ideas when I was young. Thinking myself smart and wise, I would try to convince others to see things as I did.
How foolish and sinful I was.
I have learned that it is far more important to be understanding and compassionate than it is to be “right” in some contest of intellectual prowess. A victory in the latter is no victory at all, for who likes to be proven wrong? My victory, if there ever is one, creates someone else’s defeat.
Knowing this, so many opinions can now be set aside and replaced with genuine encounter. No matter how disturbing the thoughts or behaviors of another may be, I can strive to understand. I can cultivate compassion for those who are so very lost or spiritually ill.
And I can do this, not because I am in superior position, but because I too am lost and spiritually ill. I may not recognize that I am, anymore than does the person before me, but later it becomes evident to me that this was the case.
Later – when I have become a bit older.
To be understanding and compassionate does not require many words. There is not nearly as much to say as when my mind is full of opinions.
Indeed, stillness of mind often goes hand in hand with stillness of heart. Such stillness is a refuge and a joy. It is where true worship takes place.
In my spiritual journey, I have also noticed that it seems that I have less and less to say to God. I may spend as much or more time in prayer but the content is rather sparse.
When I come across some of the prayers composed for the Church to pray, they sometimes seem oddly wordy to me. There are pleas for God to make us this way or that, or requests that God be mindful of our needs and suffering.
There is nothing wrong with these prayers. In our longing for God, it is natural that we tell Him of our needs and our desire for Him. But, of course, He already knows all of these things. He knows them better than we do.
Can I simply trust Him as loving Father to understand and be compassionate? To give me what I most need?
Indeed, if my faith means anything, it means this.
What is there left to say to God, after “I thank You, I trust You, I love You.”?
Yet fewer words does not mean less prayer. I could not bear it if it did.
Prayer is my sustenance, the only true means by which my heart can be fed the love that makes it grow.
And so I repeat myself.
Many times over, I say to God the few words I know: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
This is not my only prayer – it is one of a small collection – but it is this prayer that teaches my heart to sing.
We do not all pray in the same manner, nor do we approach prayer in the same way at different points in our lives.
What is most important is that we pray. God delights in any and all movements of our hearts toward Him.
Whether our prayer is simple and genuine, or painful and questioning, God welcomes it as He welcomes us.
He rests in silence with us when we are at peace but He also reads the long letters we write when we are far away.
People often wonder what the purpose is in repeating the same prayer over and over again. I have wondered this myself at times. Does repeating the Prayer mean that I must eternally beg God for mercy? Is He so stingy with this grace of His that I must ask for it over and over?
Certainly not. His mercy is without end and is given to us without hesitation when we least deserve it.
I do not repeat the Prayer because God needs to hear it. It is my heart that is in need. It needs to be opened, to be humbled, to be receptive.
And this is a prayer of humility. I acknowledge that the Son is God (and that I am not) and that I am in need of mercy. The Prayer finds its Scriptural roots in the plea of the Publican who, in the depths of his being, knew that he needed God – while the Pharisee thought God needed him.
The Prayer is not a magical formula. I can pray it with the driest of souls and experience not the slightest change in my state as I do so. Other times, it seems to pray itself with every breath I take.
To pray this prayer – or any prayer – with genuine tenacity is part of the asceticism that enables us to receive God’s gifts.
Too often we in the West think of asceticism as taking on suffering or deprivation, as though that alone could lead us to holiness.
True asceticism is a training of our hearts. As with any training, there are times when it feels rewarding and times when it does not.
But, unlike any human training we undergo, this training of our hearts prepares us, body, mind and soul, for an experience beyond any we can imagine.
It prepares us to enter and share in the life of God.
This truth is so full, so complete, that I have little else to say.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me a sinner.