“The astonishing thing about prayer is our inability to accept that if we have need of it, as we do, then because of God’s goodness, it cannot be something that is difficult. Accept that God is good and that our relationship with Him is prayer and you must conclude that prayer is an act of the utmost simplicity. Yet so many people seem to feel that there is some mysterious method, some way in that others know, but they do not. ‘Knock and it shall be opened to you’: they seem to believe that it needs some sort of Masonic knock and their own humble tapping will go unnoticed. What kind of God thinks of tricks, lays down arcane rules, makes things difficult ? God wants to love us and to give Himself. He wants to draw us to Himself, strengthen us, and infuse His peace. The humblest, most modest, almost imperceptible rubbing of our fingers on the door, and it flies open. Prayer is the last thing we should feel discouraged about. It concerns nobody except God – always longing only to give Himself to us in love – and my own decision. And that too is God’s, ‘who works in us to will and to effect’. In a very true sense, there is nothing more to say about prayer, ‘the simplest thing out.’”
I have been a monk for nearly half a century and during that time have read many books on prayer. I have gone through many moods, techniques and commentaries while reading the accounts of the experiences of these women and men with God, ancient and modern, Jewish, Christian and Muslim. But none of them suited me as well as this passage from Sister Wendy Beckett, the contemplative nun in Norfolk, England, made famous by her television programmes on art. She summed it up so well in her book: this passage I found one of the most powerful. Her writings are compelling because they come from the pen of one who will spend several hours in prayer during the night and seeks always to live in a perpetual state of awareness of God’s presence, a God closer to us than our jugular vein, as the Holy Qur’an expresses it.
Its simplicity results from making one fundamental choice. Am I the centre of my world, or is there a transcendent being, a God Who is Love seeking to relate with me, whom I should seek?
For some the world is full of entertaining distractions and ‘religion’ becomes the solution in all its formalised superficiality. For the vast majority each day brings problems of coping with life in family, in community and, indeed, discovering one’s true self.
To seek God, to engage with the ‘bigger picture’ requires giving time, as often as is practical. The spiritual life is not like a visit to the supermarket. It starts with oneself, and, by means of silence or a text, empowers a desire to find that deeper meaning, that context which has no limits and that identity which is ‘me’ seen in the mirror of the Other. Once found the rest is as easy as Sister Wendy describes, shown by the utter simplicity of the ‘technique’. Once the habit is established the effect spills over into the rest of the day, now lived with an awareness of being present to God and remembering the sense beyond words, the affirmation beyond embracing, which form the backdrop of this new identity: a sign a relationship with God has been established. I suspect there are billions of contemplatives in our world. Might they be under threat from social networking?