This is the last of our Director’s Lent blogs on silent prayer. His first blog described one way of putting this into practice, the second blog looked at some of its fruits in our life the third blog explained how silent prayer differs from “mindfulness,” and the fourth blog explored how silence sits alongside other forms of prayer.
“Let nothing disturb you. Let nothing frighten you. All things are passing away: God never changes. Patience obtains all things. Whoever has God lacks nothing; God alone suffices.”
I find it reassuring to know that St Teresa of Avila, the author of this beautiful prayer, was the same woman who found silent prayer so difficult that she would shake the hourglass to try and make the time go more quickly.
Patience did not come naturally to St Teresa, it may not come naturally to you, and it certainly doesn’t come naturally to me.
But (as I said in my first blog) silent prayer is a school of patience. The testimony of two millennia of Christians is that the fruit comes whether or not we find the process easy.
Silent prayer helps us to acknowledge our limits, to acknowledge that true fruitfulness can only come by grace. It is a lesson we will all have to learn as our life comes towards its end. The earlier we learn it, the more we can live in the light of truth and not delusion.
As we face the final enemy, death (1 Corinthians 15.26) we are forced to recognise our limits. That realisation that will either leave us desolate or it will lead us to place our trust in God’s eternal Kingdom – a Kingdom that is not built by our effort and skill alone, but is first received as a gift.
Resurrection hope enables us to struggle for justice in this world, and to know what even when that struggle faces setbacks, even when we cannot see the full impact of our work, the powers and principalities of this world will not have the final word.
I was reminded of this in November, when so many care workers gathered at St Katharine Cree to share their testimonies of life on poverty wages, and to pray and organise for justice.
The final hymn brought many in the church to tears, as those who had given testimony sang these words:
“And when I think that God, His Son not sparing / Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in / That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing / He bled and died to take away my sin”
The source of their struggle for justice is the conviction that however the powers of this world treat them, they are daughters and sons of God for whom Christ died and rose again.
This is the ultimate reality, a reality that gives hope and dignity in the midst of the oppression of the Pharaohs of our time. For as in the Book of Exodus, we have our own Pharaohs who demand that workers make bricks without straw, and who scapegoat the very people on whose work (as care workers and cleaners, construction workers and security guards) the wider society depends.
This is why we pray the Jesus Prayer, both at home and in the presence of Jesus’ crucified and risen Body in the Blessed Sacrament. Like St Teresa, we may find it a struggle to still our hearts and minds in the midst of the tumult of our lives. But, like St Teresa, we will also find that resting in the presence of Jesus will help us to taste that peace which passes all understanding (Philippians 4.6).
That peace is what we need if we are to confront the Pharaohs of today with confidence and courage, and also with love and compassion, so that the struggle does not infect our own hearts with pride and hardness of heart.
The ground of all our hope is that the crucified and risen Lord is both the source and answer to our prayer: “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”