I am at our Falls Retreat Center in Starlight today. I came up to do some chores, get in a quick cleaning to save us hiring it out, check on the property since it is winter, and to also complete few updates on the list yet to be finished like hanging the new bedroom blinds! I enjoy the ride up; I enjoy the change in scenery and I certainly enjoy the silence. I pray.
Did you know that there are different ways to pray? When I was in seminary, I literally felt the differences between my classes at Catholic University and Howard University. One was a reflective, almost faith prayer, and the other was more experiential! One, God was always distant, and the other God was right next to me, very present and very real! One type of prayer was “kataphatic” as opposed to other called “apophatic?” Did you know that? If you didn’t, don’t feel badly, neither did I!
These two fancy words simply point to a very useful distinction. “Kataphatic” prayer has content; it uses words, images, symbols, ideas. “Apophatic” prayer has no content. It means emptying the mind of words and ideas and simply resting in the presence of God. In doing so, we acknowledge that God is bigger than our knowing, greater than our capacity to describe. By way of example, Centering Prayer is apophatic. Ignatian or Franciscan Prayer is mostly kataphatic.
Now, don’t get me wrong, we don’t have to abandon our beautiful word prayers and litanies that we find such deep comfort in from our Catholic faith. But I also have come to find power of cataphatic prayer, full of words and images that express the deepest longings of my heart. I have learned that if we want to deepen discernment, strengthen our closeness to God, and tap into creativity, we do need to balance those prayers with content free forms of devotion. With time and intention, we can teach ourselves the creative power of emptying, stillness, and silence. This is what I have learned happens to me when I come to our retreat center; I empty myself and find God again. I come to find myself here, but I also come to value a pure expression of the Divine Presence, one that is not dependent on my best thinking and one that doesn’t require anyone to even know how well I do. In the end, how we pray shapes who we are and how we decide the most important things in our life.
Today, I’d like to end my reflection by sharing a prayer sent to me right before Lent from two parishioners. By sharing this poetic prayer by the Reverend Dr. J. Alfred Smith, Sr., I hope to allow you to take a chance and find a new way to pray, too.
Let us pray…
Older than the morning stars that twinkled in the blackness of night’s first birth, the rotation of the axis of time, bring us into the freshness of your mercy and the newness of your presence. We come to you today with heartfelt gratitude, not with mixing Judas paint with Judas praise in order to cover our hypocrisy. Some of us come to you with triumph over tragedy. Others of us come with enduring pain suffered from shameful defeat in an inescapable battle of life. Some of us feel like going on and others of us feel like giving up. But to you we come just as we are. Whether we are winners or losers, we know that you love us one and all. Greatest of the Greatest, you know just how much we can bear. We all come to commune with you:
The tireless champion;
The tired loser;
The retired forgotten ones;
We all come to be consistently corrected and comforted by you.
We come counting our lost.
We come confronting our crises.
We come as citizens of cities controlled by crime.
We come chilled by the cold of cowardice.
Great God Almighty:
Commune with us conscience clean.
Caress us with the cradle of compassion.
Consecrate us with outrageous convictions.
Control us with Christlike concerns.
Great Physician Powerful:
Pardon us with the conscience of peace.
Place us in paths of productivity.
Practice the perfection of healing upon those who are physically, emotionally, or spiritually sick.
This is our humble plea, we present in the precious Name of the prince of peace, Jesus Christ, our priceless priest. Amen.
How We Pray Makes Us Who We Are. And yes, Amen!