I don’t know if you have ever had the experience of sky-diving. If you have God bless you!! If not… neither have I…but I think that would be a really extraordinary experience…to have the experience of flying! There is something really thrilling about seeing the world from above! I remember going on an airplane for the first time not too long ago. I am a small town country girl and so growing up, I hardly ever saw an airplane up close before! I was heading to university…and I was so thrilled that I would be travelling on a plane!! I wanted the window seat for sure! It was amazing to see the world from above!
I suppose growing in our prayer life feels something like sky-diving, or even flying in an airplane. We are beginning to believe that with God all things are possible, and we are beginning to see that no matter what we have done, or what we have failed to do, we are infinitely loved by God! God begins to take over our prayer life as we enter more deeply into contemplation with Him. We just need to throw ourselves into the arms of God, like a little child. I am sure our ancestors years and years ago would not have even dreamed that one day, there would be airplanes that could take people all over the world. For sure our ancestors would have never thought that we would have a chance to sky-dive! We are beginning to see the world with new eyes…in a sense we are being transformed into Christ. In our prayer, we are able to trust that with God all things are possible!
Do I have trust that with God all things are possible? Is there someone in my life who really needs my prayers? Do I really believe that God is going to help them?
Are there areas of my life that I need conversion and healing? Do I believe that God is going to supply me with everything I need to help me in the healing process?
Do I trust in the power of the Sacraments? How much do I trust the Sacraments to bring about healing in my life?
St Teresa of Avila is awesome! If you ever get a chance to read what she has written, you will not be disappointed! In her discussions on the various mansions in the spiritual life, she speaks about how in the beginning of our spiritual lives, it feels as though we are doing most of the work in our prayer life; however, as we grow, we will begin to see that it is God working in us. St. Teresa of Avila also speaks about the quieting of the soul in prayer, where we can be totally absorbed in God.
Prayer is very special. St. Therese says, “For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.” There is so much to be said about prayer, and eventually we will have more blog posts on prayer. But here we will indicate some very simple thoughts on what growth in prayer looks like.
In order for us to obtain the true conversion of heart that we are all seeking after, we must pray! It is important to allow ourselves to become recollected. In his book, The Fulfillment of All Desire, Ralph Martin explains that there are two types of recollection: acquired and contemplative. Acquired recollection involves our own effort to still our souls through Scripture, music, spiritual reading etc… Contemplation on the other hand, he describes as the “touch of God” in the soul. It is like a spiritual communication that manifests truth as St. Bernard says, “When the Word therefore tells the soul, “You are beautiful,” and calls it friend, he infuses into it the power to love, and to know it is loved in return…the soul’s response is wonder and thanksgiving.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines contemplation as follows: “A form of wordless prayer in which the mind and heart focus on God’s greatness and goodness in affective, loving adoration; to look on Jesus and the mysteries of his life with faith and love” (CCC 2626, 2715).
As we dive more into the spiritual life, we begin to desire periods of silence and recollection more and more. I don’t know if you have ever seen the movie “Up” where you see glimpses of the life of Mr. Fredrickson and his wife. You see that they do not even have to say anything to each other…they are just happy to be together. I believe that the prayer of quiet is very similar to this. Teresa of Avila explains that this is a “foretaste of what will be given to those He brings to His Kingdom.” The soul is just happy and content to be in the presence of God.
The prayer of union is being “captured” by the Lord in deep absorption and prayer. Ralph Martin says in his book that the memory, imagination and intellect are totally absorbed in God. It can be so intense that the person is not even aware of his surroundings! They are just aware of the Lord’s presence and are completely absorbed in Him! St. Teresa of Avila says, “God so places Himself in the interior of the soul that when it returns to itself it can in no way doubt that it was in God and God was in it.”
So what is the point of growing in these different stages? The point is simply, to help us be more united to the Lord which is what we are called to do, and to do His will. Prayer is not about having certain experiences, rather it is about growing in a relationship with Christ and learning to soar with Him. St Bernard as well as St. Teresa of Avila and even St. Therese of Lisieux all speak about the importance of opening ourselves to the mercy of God in our prayer life. Confidence in the infinite mercy of God will help us soar and fly in the spiritual life!
However, we must keep in mind that in order to grow in love for someone sometimes entails suffering. Suffering can be a real test of love…and a growth in love. God will permit us, at some point in our lives to pass through a dark night. This will look different for all of us, but the dark night is necessary and essential for our growth in holiness…this is something we will speak about in our next post!