If you do anything ‘online’, you must be aware of a service of communication that is called ‘Constant Contact’. An organization that wants to get a message out about, let’s say, an event that is going to be made available, sends out an email blast through a company called ‘Constant Contact’ that gets the message out to everyone on your email contact list. As a parish, we send a constant contact email blast whenever we want to announce or remind our parishioners of an upcoming opportunity for spiritual, liturgical or social growth.
I use this particular type of communication to be an example of a development in my spiritual life of prayer that has been very fruitful. I want to share with you this discovery.
Traditionally, we view times of prayer as distinct periods of our day. They dot the landscape of the 24 hours of each unit we call ‘a day’. For some, these periods of prayer are often experienced in particular locations we associate with God: churches, chapels, hilltops, etc. These ‘compartments’ for prayer can also be at distinctive times of our day; say, for instance, in the morning and the evening, or they can be centered around meals and other occupational moments.
What all these instances of prayer have in common is that they are nestled in the greater time of our living. They are exceptional. For a long time, I thought of prayer as having to be in a particular place and at a particular time.
But then something happened to me when I encountered Eastern Orthodox Theology and Spirituality.
Confronted as the early monks of the desert were by the command of St. Paul to “pray always” or in another translation “pray ceaselessly” (cf. 1 Thess. 5:17), they devised a number of habits to make that a reality in their lives. The most famous of these methods is the recitation continually of the ‘Jesus Prayer’: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me” or slight variations of this. Included in this simple sentence is a whole Christology or study of Christ: Jesus (the fully human) is Lord and is the Christ or Messiah awaited for centuries with great longing. But He is also Son of God (fully divine), and has the power in His Mercy to heal us of sin and transform us into children of God. This simple prayer was said while they cooked and cleaned and farmed and walked down a hallway, etc.
Inherent in this approach is the notion that prayer should never be confined to only specific times (Morning or Evening) nor specific places (Church), but that it must be a constant contact with God. Instead of just the occasional prayer, this approach calls for a life of prayer. We are called to be constantly in the presence of God, talking with Him and listening to Him. Many see this as the grace of the Holy Spirit Who dwells in us, making us a temple where we worship God in everything we do.
I try to combine this invocation of the Sacred Name to a holy mindfulness and a use of short prayers that I say silently as I begin a work of God (which is really anything I do). It makes all things holy and makes me aware that God is always there, present to me.
It is hard to overstate the advantages that this approach has. It transforms life into a continual relationship with God. Consequently, it shrinks into unimportance the material things that people break their backs in achieving: honors, money, power. Next to God, these things are nothing. This involves a deep liberation from our usual servitude to these things that is now revealed to be all smoke and mirrors.
When we see that God is not one thing among others but is truly everything, even the small seemingly insignificant things become filled with great meaning and power: a smile, a sunset, a gentle breeze. Conversely, sin is revealed to be the most horrible, ungrateful and destructive reality possible since it seeks to take the place of this great God with bits and pieces of irrelevant and insignificant things that simply do not even come near the experience of God in daily life. Rather, we see the true horror of sin and its wasteful and destructive results.
Clearly the rewards of seeing God in all things and communicating in prayer throughout the day are so evident that they can be felt even by a child.
Ironically, children are at most risk in this desiccated godless landscape. For, as an awareness of God seeps out of our culture leaving a barren desert of isolated and irrelevant pleasures, is it any wonder that the suicide rate of young people goes so high and that others are driven into random violence and the sleep of drugs. Have computers and other marvels of modern science really brought people together or have they further isolated them into hermetically sealed and invisible prison cells of continual yearning?
And yet, thankfully, God continues to call us out of our private prisons into freedom and joy with His presence and His continual love.
Why would anyone reject God and choose the prison cell?