By Dom Hubert Van Zeller

Springfield, Illinois

Nihil Obstat: Georgivs Smith, S.T.D., PH.D.
Imprimatur: E. Morragh Bernard
Westmonaterii: Die XVII Movembris MCML

First Published 1951

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Prayer In Activity

Let it be said straightaway that for anyone to attempt at the beginning of her spiritual course the practice of attending to the presence of God every two or three minutes is to prepare for a nervous breakdown.  The strain of recalling the mind at frequent intervals can only lead to disgust and a great longing to be free of the whole business of the spiritual life.  So for most people a more gradual introduction to the practice of the presence of God -- even a quite different way into it -- must be found.

There are souls who make use of the striking of the clock to remind them, at each successive hour, to make a few ejaculations which will set them off on the next sixty minutes with a shove of recollection.  Again there are souls who, when tempted to irritabililty or uncharity in their interviews with other people, make a habit of putting their fingers on the crucifix of their rosaries.  It steadies them.  The moment they feel like being curt they remember the danger signal, they grope for their rosary, they press the cross, the mood passes.  For those who can follow them, these methods are not to be despised.  But probably very few can.

What happens in a soul's development is more likely to be this:  from the cultivation of set prayer -- in the times, that is, which are put aside for prayer, whether vocal or mental --  the habit is acquired both of living more or less in the presence of God and of meeting each new happening in the day with an ejaculation.

The duties of the moment are performed under a prayer umbrella.  The presence of God is felt to be the natural as well as the supernatural element.  The soul may not be able to maintain its awareness of God for very long -- perhaps not for more than a few second at a time --but there is the general realization that this is the atmosphere most appropriate to its spirit.  The soul would like to be able to make recollection its whole-time business.  But of course there are the children to bathe, the tradesmen to ring up, the flowers to arrange, the clothes to mend...

So in effect the referring of each new duty or chance happening to God is not done so much as a result of making resolutions about it, as from the interior attraction which is gradually being formed by grace.  The desire to live in the presence of God, even if that desire seems to be blocked at every turn, brings its own technique.  It is the attraction rather than the resolution which eventually causes the soul to express itself in ejaculations throughout the day.  Prayer-words spring to the lips -- or even not to the lips at all, but to the mind -- as naturally as swear-words.  Except that these prayer-words (affections) are expressions of something real.

This is not to say that what are called in the textbooks 'forced acts'  are unnecessary.  They are, particularly in the beginning, very necessary indeed.  We have to train ourselves by deliberately wedging into the chinks of our busy days these sometimes rather angular shafts of love.  All that is claimed here is that after a time it should not be necessary to use quite such force.  They become more and more such force.  They become more and more 'affective' -- breathed out from the heart.

Practised in the sort of prayer here described, the soul no longer says: "Heavens, the clock is going to strike in a minute or two; I must think up something to say to God.'  The prayer takes the form -- often not framed in words at all -- of meeting each break in the day as it comes along with: 'This is the will of God; Lord, I unite my will to it.'  When a person interrupts what you rae doing, you recognize a representative of Christ.  When the dog is seen getting under the sofa with tonight's savoury, you at once assume that God wants you to put aside the half-hour which you have been looking forward to (and which you meant to spend with a book in church or doing the stations of the cross):  you realise that He wants you to make another savoury.

To conclude.  To be able to practise prayer in the middle of activity is something which derives more from an atitude of mind than from a multitude of resolutions.  The resolutions help towards cultivating the attitude of mind, but it is the attitude of mind which, without particularly thinking of them, and certainly without causing nervousness and tension, fulfils the resolutions.  And to build up this attitude of mind takes time.

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