4 - Prayer As Patience
"Prayer as patience is the secret of the Christian life".
The main thing we learn from meditating on the Lord’s Prayer is that before being a question of method, environment and place, the secret of prayer lies in finding the right posture.
Advice on prayer often starts with the external posture – how to sit or kneel, how to breathe – before passing to inner dispositions and the need to cultivate calm peace, patience and perseverance. All these elements merit attention and can be very helpful, especially at the beginning of the life of prayer, but they are still not the posture which is required by prayer or, rather, the posture that is prayer.
When, for instance, I want to write a letter on a sensitive point to a dear friend I need to sit down, grab my laptop and make sure I have a nice mug of coffee close at hand – more pertinently, I might have to switch off my iPhone and try to focus on what I need to tell the person I love. But is this enough? Is this the key to finding the right words? Is it all I need to do? Writing to a dear friend requires something more. I have to connect with that part of myself where my friend matters, where the treasure of all I have shared with him is jealously kept, where I can find the inspiration I need. I have to find the right ‘place’, the right inner disposition, because only what comes from there will sound heartfelt and sincere.
Prayer likewise can be heartfelt and sincere only when it stems from the right place, only when we embark on it with the right posture.
We have looked at Jesus’ posture in prayer. We have also seen that Jesus’ prayer is the only authentic prayer, the same that is continually active in our hearts whether we are aware of it or not, the prayer of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus prays he says Father! In the same way, the Spirit of the Son cries in our hearts: Abba, Father! We know therefore that this inner attitude resembles the way children look at their fathers; that is, with trust, affection, gratitude and a desire to please – at least if our experience of earthly fatherhood has been a positive one, something which unfortunately cannot be taken for granted.
I once met a Christian woman from the Far East who was traumatized by the idea of addressing God as father. Her own father had been cold and distant, and a relationship with him had been impossible. This aspect of her faith had left her resentful and even angry. In time, however, she turned this anger, not against herself, but against the cold and distant projection of God determined by her experience of fatherhood, whereupon the mirror broke into pieces and she discovered the real Father, a Father who loved and cared for her. The Lord’s Prayer became real for her and this led to the healing of her relationship with her own earthly father before he died.
We often think that to be a father and to be a son or daughter should come spontaneously to us, but then the more we grow, the more we discover not only all we owe to our parents, but also all the ways in which they have conditioned and hurt us. At that moment we need to start learning what it means to be sons or daughters (and indeed fathers or mothers) in a new and different way. With our Father in heaven we go through a similar process. We become children of God through baptism, but then it takes the whole of our life on earth to realize it and act like children of this Father, to think, pray, forgive, love and rest like children of our Father, God.
The whole of Jesus’ life, teaching and miracles can be seen in this light: he shows to us what it is to be children of the Father, he teaches us how to grow into this posture, he heals the blindness, the deafness, the paralysis, the fear and all that prevents us from saying and living out the Lord’s Prayer authentically.
Becoming children of this Father, of our Father in heaven, is something we have to pray for with patience: ‘Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.’ Here Jesus teaches us that patience does not mean passivity. Prayer entails an active patience: we are called to ask, search, knock, that is pray. It is a patience that, when it receives what was prayed for, welcomes it as a gift.
Prayer as patience is the secret of the Christian life and should be the salt and the light of everything we do, for only that which is planted by the Father bears fruit, since ‘every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted’.