asked me, "father, please tell me how to pray always". "Well, Tom, you need
to find God in everything you do, and then your prayer becomes unceasing and
continuous". "How that can be achieved?" asked Tom. I told him that the
answer can be found in the following article.
influences life itself when it permeates every detail of your life. When
prayer becomes unceasing it becomes a habit and it influences your
attitudes. Hence prayer becomes a constant habitual attitude.
"Be ye perfect as my heavenly Father is perfect". Each one of you needs to
aim at becoming like the heavenly Father. Jesus himself accomplished the
will of the Father as his daily 'food'.
grows always physically, spiritually, psychologically and morally. There is
no end to growth unless it is terminated by death. Growth needs help and
this help is provided by many factors like food, exercise, study, training
etc. Speaking of spiritual growth the only contributor to this growth is
grace and prayer. God provides the needed grace. Prayer is your elevation of
heart and mind to God's grace.
first and foremost effect of prayer in your life is 'Detachment'. You cannot
grow unless you detach. Detachment simply cannot happen because the roots of
attachments to things, persons, wealth, honor, approval, are deeply embedded
in your self. To grow into Christ, to experience the real freedom detachment
is the fundamental factor. Detachment does not mean running away from things
and persons; rather it is a gradual attainment of balance and equilibrium
in life. You cannot observe certain external rules and regulations and
say that you are growing and progressing. This is wrong. It is a total and
integral change that must happen in you. It is a growth inside out. When you
are attached to something you cannot in any way grow as St. John of the
Cross would put it "like a bird that is tied with a cord or by a slender
thread" it cannot fly.
growth you come across varied situations, different people with diverse
temperaments that are good as well as bad. They influence you. You need to
form yourself in order to deal with all kinds of people, without disliking
them or distancing yourself from them.
In this task
of daily spiritual growth prayer plays a major role where one understands
the need for a strong foundation in order to build an edifice. When you are
ready to build a house with all the material that is necessary you sit and
plan. You are keen on building a house that will last on a foundation that
can guarantee support, strength and endurance.
does prayer do? It informs you of the need to select material, the dangers
and risks that are involved, the energy that is to be spent, the crisis you
are going to experience etc.
Detachment is a big factor
for growth in spiritual life or for any state of life be it civil or
religious or spiritual. The term 'detachment' is expressed through multiple
other equivalents, such as abnegation, renunciation, mortification,
stripping off of old self, renunciation, self-abandonment, forgetfulness of
self, self-sacrifice, humility or spiritual freedom. Our Lord said: "Whoever
wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me"
(Mt 16.24); and again to the rich young man "sell all that you have and
distribute it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, then come
follow me" (Lk 18.22); "there is no one who has given up house or wife or
brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God who will
not receive an over abundant return in this present age and eternal life in
the age to come" (Lk 18.29-30). All these passages point to the attainment
of a higher good at the denial of a lower one. St. Paul says it is "taking
off the old self with its practices of immorality in order to be re-clothed
with the new self, renovated in the image of its creator" (Col 3.5; 8-12).
Right from your childhood you learnt to
grab things for yourself. When you wanted things you cried and your parents
provided you. You are basically the one who wanted and accumulated things
and never learnt the art of giving. Striving for more things leads to the
realization that you cannot ever fulfil yourself from the outside. The more
you get attached or value those things outside of yourself, the more you
give those things the power to control you. When you are controlled by
things external to yourself you are a slave to those externals, making
suffering the only available course to you. Prayer helps you to value things
in their proper place and context. It helps you to grasp the inner reality
of your sacred self. You are worth much more than the things outside of you.
You begin to form yourself from within and not form yourself depending on
the things outside of you.
Attachment to People
do not say that it is inappropriate to love someone, to value that person,
and appreciate the presence of that person in your life. You need
unconditional love relationships in life. My concern is to inform you of the
danger of needing to own another and feeling useless and hurt if that person
is not a part of your life in the way you desire. All human relationships
and friendships can be happier from a position of detachment. This
radically means loving people unconditionally and allowing them to make
their own choices without hankering after them. Prayer is a help in this
situation to discern well what kind of relationship in fact leads you to
God. The moment you are attached inordinately to a person you are distancing
yourself from God. The moment of prayer informs you where you are in your
relationship with people. How far you can go and what are the dangers
involved in exaggerating. Prayer is the touchstone of relationships.
Detachment in human relationship does not in any way mean absence of caring.
If your prayer is genuine you will know that love is for giving and not for
The Disturbing Past
You normally have the habit of thinking about the past. Your
past might have been glorious or painful. The thoughts of the past linger on
and on in your life comparing them to your present situation. You
participate in attachment to the past when you attempt to determine for
others what their choices should be, based on what you were taught to
believe. Due to attachment to your past you determine for others what
education they should seek, what vocation to choose, who their friends
should be, what they should wear, how they should speak, and even how they
must choose to think as you had thought. This limits your freedom and chains
you to your past and literally does not allow you to open yourself to the
new and evolved reality in others. You complain saying when you were young
you did things that way. You criticize the younger generation for not
following your path. Prayer helps you to overcome such attachments. You
know to discern and are better prepared to meet the challenges through the
renewal of your mind.
Attachment to your Appearance
You are not your appearance. You are 99 percent invisible
reality. What is seen of you is just one percent. Often you give much
importance to your external than to your interior. You are worried to see
what people say about your appearance, your external features. Human beauty
is deeper and has a spiritual dimension to it. If you believe that you are
only your body then you are inviting a lifetime of suffering. Hair loss,
wrinkles, weakening vision, weakening limbs and all indications of physical
change will bring you immense suffering. Being exclusively involved with
outer appearance makes it difficult to see that your true essence is a
formlessness that resides inside your body. You need to transcend this
difficulty forming your inner self through contact with the Ultimate
reality. Prayer helps you to journey inwards and discover the invaluable
riches that are within. You can bring out the immense treasures that are
within to make other people rich. The Lord said "The kingdom of God is
within you" and "where your treasure is there your heart be also".
Attachment to Wealth
No man can
serve God and wealth. There is a normal tendency in you to get attached to
money. You handle money and gradually there is a danger that you become the
victim of money. Instead of managing money, money begins to manage you.
Detachment means the awareness that you are not steered by money. If you
strongly feel that you must have money in order to feel happy and
successful, then you are basically attached to it. Here you need the help of
prayer and dependence on God. Prayer begins in you a process of inner
healing which does not allow you to be dependent on wealth or money. Your
inner voice begins to affirm that you cannot buy happiness, peace and
joy through money. Prayer strengthens you to be free and to be content with
what you have.
Detachment from Your
Your life cannot always be a bed of roses. Life is full of sufferings and
pain. Without sufferings you cannot be really a complete human person. The
Psalmist says "our life is over like a sigh, our span is seventy years or
eighty for those who are strong. And most of these are emptiness and pain.
They pass swiftly and we are gone. Give us joy Lord to balance our
affliction" (Ps. 90). We undergo all kinds of suffering; physical,
psychological, moral, spiritual, sociological, political etc. There is not a
day perhaps when you have not suffered. This does not mean that you alone
suffer. Often you are attached to your own pain without getting out of
yourself. When you come to know that there are millions of people over the
globe suffering in innumerable ways, your sufferings will be lightened.
Since you have been thinking only of your sufferings you have become blind
to the sufferings of others. You may be suffering of a toothache or the
painful agony of an incurable sickness. I do not deny that pain and
suffering nor do I like to make it light comparing it with the sufferings of
others. But the fact is that the moment you live your pain with yourself
that becomes unbearable for you. You can just imagine the way millions
suffered in the concentration camps of Hitler during the Second World War.
The excruciating pain of separation, nakedness, tortures of various kinds,
lack of food and basic amenities of life, psychological isolation etc were
endured by people like me and you. When you suffer you have company, a
community around you, medical security and spiritual help is provided, you
are given the best possible treatment, you are helped to accept your pain.
Various people pray for you. Imagine the situation of a person on the
streets, a beggar, a vagabond, having no financial security leave alone
medical security; who lives for the day and does not even have enough money
to get his daily bread. There are many such people who suffer innumerable
pains and even incurable sicknesses. Now who is better? You or those
unfortunate people? Believe that God has given you a cross that you can
carry. Carry it with the spirit of Christ. Detach from thinking on your
own sufferings and become a part of humanity's suffering. Pray for
others and learn from others how to carry your own cross. Prayer opens up
your will to accept whatever God gives you. Let this be your prayer "naked I
came from my mother's womb, naked I shall return again. Yahweh gave, Yahweh
has taken back. Blessed be the name of Yahweh" (Jb 1.21).
Love of Neighbour
Prayer strengthens your bonds with others. I
have indicated in the section of detachment the need to cultivate mature
relationship with others. The Lord said "love your neighbour as yourself".
This is easily said but difficult to practise.
If your love towards God is to
be genuine and lasting it must be manifested in your love towards your
neighbour. "The way we came to know love was that He laid down his life for
us; so we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers... Let us love not in
word or speech but in deed and truth" (1 Jn 4.16-18). St. Teresa of Avila
affirms that "our nature being so evil, I do not believe we should ever
attain perfect love for our neighbour unless it has its roots in the love of
Love embraces all trials and every act done with pure intention towards your
neighbour. Your prayer cannot be authentic in so far as you are not able to
see the image of God in the other. The moment you fail to understand the
other you basically fail to understand the OTHER.
St. John in his first letter,
Chapter 4 verses 7-20, explicitly exhorts: "love comes from God and those
who love are born of God. Those who do not love do not know God. God is
love. We must love one another. No one has ever seen God. If we love one
another, God lives in us and His love spreads freely among us. God is love.
One who lives in love, lives in God and God in him. We must strive to become
like Him. There is no fear in love, perfect love drives away every fear.
Those who fear do not love. Let us love one another. If you say 'I love God'
while you hate your brother, you are a liar. How can you love God whom you
cannot see, if you do not love your neighbour?" This text puts God as a
concrete reality before us. Only when we love our neighbour as we love
ourselves we know that God is present among us. In your neighbour you are
able to touch and feel God. John again in the gospel clearly mentions that
"there is no greater love than this to give one's life for ones friend". (Jn
15.13). The criterion to judge that love is genuine, is the same criterion
Jesus gives "love one another as I have loved you" (Jn 15.12). Now you know
clearly that God can be made a concrete reality through love. When you love
you pray and you are in direct contact with God. There is no greater prayer
than that of loving and becoming love in your daily life. When
love becomes a reality God becomes a reality to you. "Where there is no love
put love, and you will draw out love".
When God becomes a concrete reality through love, prayer just happens.
Prayer and Humility
The Gospels recommend the need to be humble like little children to gain
entry into God's kingdom (Mk 10.15). Prayer is a door to the kingdom of God.
Prayer opens up the doors of the kingdom. Prayer is knocking, seeking and
searching for this kingdom. The kingdom belongs to the poor in spirit who
are childlike in humility (Mt 5.3). This is all inclusive of the spirit of
Christ who invites his disciples to learn from him because He is meek and
humble of heart (Mt 11.29). He humbled himself, being obedient to death,
even death on a cross (Phil 2.8).
In Christ's teaching, humility
is closely associated with love and service. The humility of Jesus is the
model for progress in prayer life. "If I therefore, the master and teacher
have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet. I have given
you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do" (Jn
Gregory the great describes
humility as "the mistress and mother of all virtues".
St. Teresa of Avila clearly observes that however advanced you may be in
prayer, humility always demands that you should be prepared to go back to
the beginnings. "No soul is ever such a giant in this way that it will not
need often to turn back to being a baby at the breast and never let this be
forgotten; for it is very important and perhaps I shall speak of it more
often. There is no state of prayer so exalted that it will not be necessary
to return often to the beginnings".
It is by gazing at God's grandeur, you get in touch with your own lowliness;
by looking at His purity, you shall see your own filth; by pondering His
humility, you shall see how far you are from being humble.
For humility has an excellent feature: when it is present in a work, that
work does not leave in the soul a feeling of frustration".
Humility is multifaceted. You
cannot zero in on a particular aspect of your life for affirming that you
are humble. It covers everything, your thoughts, judgements, categories,
ideas, desires, ambitions, hopes and expectations. Prayer must affect
all these areas to lead you to real humility. If these areas are not
touched, prayer will be just an external practice. To determine the
essential elements of Christian prayer, you must go to the very teaching of
Christ himself. The fullest and most important characteristic is contained
in Mt. 6.5-16: "When you pray" says Jesus "do not be like hypocrites"; "do
not use a lot of meaningless words". "go to your room, close the door, and
pray to your Father who is unseen, because your Father already knows what
you need". This invitation to pray unseen and hidden brings out the real
nature of humility that makes you humble before God. In order to be really
humble you need the following attitudes:
The best example of humility is
forgiveness. It is not so easy as you think it to be. For an awakened life,
you must transcend your body, must learn to be detached. But if you have not
learned forgiveness, you may master all of the other principles and still
remain prisoner. To feel genuinely transformed you need to learn to forgive.
This is a basic requirement and a prerequisite for prayer and growth. You
cannot grow in the life of prayer if you fail to forgive the one who has
offended you, hurt you, and abused you. Forgiveness is the ultimate test for
the person who is willing and able to live the enlightened life.
When you go into the depth of
your own self through prayer you begin to get a better vision of yourself as
the part of the universe. The universe is always working just the way it is
supposed to, and so it has everything in it, even the things that you have
judged to be wrong, improper, cruel, and painful for yourself and others.
When a natural calamity occurs there is no one to be blamed. You accept the
loss. Prayer helps you to understand that everything that happened to you is
a lesson you can be grateful for. Everyone who came into your life was a
teacher, regardless of how much you choose to hate and blame him/her.
Someone has harmed you, hurt you in the past. You feel angry and there is
hatred in you. You carry that hatred around with you wherever you go. This
hatred infects your life and it goes on. Forgiveness is a tool to use to
transcend these negative effects of hurt and pain. Forgiveness can only be
the outcome of genuine prayer. It does not simply happen. No one can
simply forgive. It requires inner strength. It is the fruit of prayer.
You know yourself, your weaknesses, your strengths, you depend on the one
who gives you the necessary strength and you forgive. Forgiveness gives you
control over your inner life and thoughts. Those nerve shattering words that
Jesus uttered on the cross when he underwent torture and pain "Father
forgive them for they know not what they do" (Lk 23.34) is an outcome of his
inner journey and prayer. He was humbled and at the same time forgives. You
see Jesus' formation reached the culminating experience in forgiveness.
Your mind is never free. It is
always busy judging. You judge who is good and who is bad; who is superior
and who is inferior; who is talented and who is not; who is strong and who
is weak; who is beautiful and who is ugly. Judgement means to view the
world as you are, rather than as it is. When the mind is full of
judgements it has little rest. When your mind has no rest you cannot pray.
Your judgements only say something about you. They enumerate your likes and
dislikes. Prayer helps you to go beyond your likes and dislikes.
You are on the way to growth in
prayer and spiritual life when you do not judge others but accept them. Your
thoughts about how others are behaving are yours and you are disturbed.
Judgement has a connection with forgiveness and humility. Forgiveness is
really just correcting your own misperceptions and judgements. You do this
in humility. In prayer you learn to understand the other. You try to
transcend the mere rationality of your mind which puts a stop to faith
Prayer cannot be effective in so
far as your mind is clouded with prejudices. They do not allow you to grow.
They block your path towards freedom and growth. Often many prejudices are
stored in your mind and you are heavy with the load. You are choked and
chained. Your prayer becomes a battling time to find answers to your own
distorted thoughts. It is like looking at a partially immersed staff in
the water. It gives an appearance that the staff is bent in the water but in
fact it is not. Your prejudices are just like the staff in the water.
Prejudices never give you the right picture of the situation or person. They
disturb your prayer and ruin your entire life. You need to form yourself to
overcome these destructive prejudices. Genuine prayer helps you to go beyond
your thoughts that contrive prejudices. You learn to live in faith. Faith is
dark to our intellect. It darkens to purify the thoughts and prejudices and
leads you to enlightenment.
Imagine your desire to improve your life; in fact it is your thought to
improve your life. There are numerous thoughts that run through your mind.
"As you think so shall you be". Virtually everything that you do is a result
of the picture that you place in your mind before you make the attempt. Shy
persons make shy pictures over and over in their minds, and until they can
see themselves as unafraid, they will always act on the picture they create.
You have a culture around you that makes you as it portrays. You are
bombarded with messages every day to remind you of perfumes, shaving creams,
soaps, detergents, electronic gadgets to decorate your body and environment,
to make you beautiful, healthy, happy and hopefully successful. Beware your
thoughts are influenced by these standards and ideals. Where your treasure
is there your heart be also. You begin to think of the persons who seem to
be happy and you want to be like them. That's how the products in markets
are sold. You buy the thoughts of others. You do not have your own
thoughts. Now prayer is a remedy to get rid of such thoughts. You begin to
realign yourself for action in and through prayer. Through prayer you
journey inwards to the depth of your self. Deep inside you is the reality of
your genuine thought. If you want to be happy, you cannot get that
happiness outside of your self. God is the centre of your self and by
contacting God your thoughts change and you become better in your action.
Jesus said "watch and pray always". Before watching anything in your life,
begin to watch your thoughts. They are either a tremendous block to your
growth or they are a source of great energy to go on and on. Monitor your
thoughts. They may revolve around your honor, prestige, approval,
appreciation, sex, ambition, success, love, peace, achievement etc. Find
out what have you been thinking right now. Have you observed your own
thoughts? When you succeed in 'watching' your thoughts you are capable of
directing them, guiding them and shaping them. Prayer contributes immensely
to such constructive activity for growth in life.
The word responsibility is a
combination of two verbs, 'response' and 'ability'. I do not
want to use the word as it is usually used: 'to fulfil the work that is
entrusted with'. As you grow in wisdom, understanding and prayer experience
you respond to any reality with heightened awareness and consciousness.
Enlightenment demands that you take responsibility for life. Doing a task
entrusted with you is not the criterion to judge whether you have done
progress in your life, rather the motivation and the deep conviction with
which you accomplish the task shows if you are on the right track. Prayer
purifies every one of your works in the crucible of love. You are then able
to respond with ability that is procured in prayer. You become fully
responsible before God for your acts. Often you do not know what you do.
That is why God takes responsibility for your acts forgiving you. God
experience is awareness to the maximum possible level in any given
situation. This is responsibility. This form of 'responsibility' should be
extended to every area of your life like responsibility in work, play,
study, care, health, spiritual life, relationship, correspondence,
conversation etc. When you are aware of your responsibility you are likely
to find God's will in your involvement. The emphasis here is on God's role
in transforming your life. Letting God into your life itself is a way of
discernment of His will. This transformation is gradual and involves a
process by which you conform yourself to the image of God in Christ (cf. Rm
8.29). St. Paul exhorts the Ephesians "your hearts and minds must be made
completely new, and you must put on the new self, which is created in God's
likeness and reveals itself in the true life that is upright and holy" (Eph
4.23-24). When you are enlightened through prayer you do not respond in the
manner the world does, your response is a completely 'new' one according to
Silence and Solitude
Making room for solitude and
silence offers new challenges in the fast progressing technological society.
The urbanization process with its crowded living conditions and the constant
communication provided by the media often presents insurmountable
difficulties to the practice of solitude and to spend time 'alone' with God.
Nevertheless, there is no other way than finding space and time to practise
genuine prayer in solitude and silence. In the midst of hustle and bustle of
the modern society the human spirit craves for solitude, because it is only
in solitude that you can encounter God and dialogue with Him in the depth of
your self. You need to pray abiding in Him (Jn 15.7). Prayer is more than an
activity relegated to specific times and places where you talk to God.
Prayer must be understood as a state of being, not just a particular
activity. It is the movement of the human spirit towards the ever-fuller
participation in the life of God. Thus, when you learn to be alone
with God, prayer and life, God and the world, become increasingly a single
experience of integration that begets spiritual energy and leads you to find
God in the depth of your heart and establish His kingdom on earth.