Just another monastic Monday: Praying without ceasing

It's Monday, and it's a good day to get monastic...

"Pray without ceasing." Paul wrote about it (1 Thessalonians 5:17). I keep trying it and failing. Yet it is the goal I am chasing right now. The idea is pretty simple, really. You just see how many times in a given hour you can connect with God in some way or another. But pulling it off? I have rarely met someone who is doing it. Why try then? Because Paul says to. And Jesus modeled it. Furthermore, I have found that the more I connect with God throughout the day, the more he opens up dimensions of who he is and how he is present in the world. It's a mysterious phenomenon, which means it's hard to explain. You just have to go there and find out for yourself. (If you do, tell me about it!)

Failure is part of the exercise. I'm not sure there has ever been a person who one day decided to connect with God multiple times an hour and suddenly did so without encountering so much failure that he/she wanted to quit. I think many Christians try this practice and do quit. I have, more than once. But lately the experience has been different. It has become clear to me that there is no better center for the Christian life than "practicing the presence of God." This is what the monk Brother Lawrence famously argued, and I have come to believe he is right. Build your spiritual life around this practice, and a lot of other things will fall into place.

Bishop Kallistos Ware describes the monastic fathers and mothers who sought God in the Egyptian desert in the 4th and 5th centuries, "Indeed, prayer for them is not so much something that they do but something they are. So closely united was Abba Arsenios with his prayer that a brother, looking through the window of his cell, saw the old man 'as if he were a single flame of love.' As Abba Joseph said, 'If you really want, you can become all flame.'" (John Chryssavgis, In the Heart of the Desert, xv).

I really want. How about you?

This is the season of "Immanuel," so I am recommending one of these prayers through the Christmas season:

  • "You are with me. I trust you."
  • "Immanuel, I trust you." ["Immanuel" means "God with us."]
  • "Immanuel!"

Incidentally, the longest of these three prayers takes exactly two seconds to say. I timed it. How many times in the next hour can you say a two-second prayer? Missionary Frank Laubach aimed for one connection with God every minute. You can use the words above. You can use one word. You can use no words at all. It doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is some kind of heart-to-heart connection with God, as often as possible. And if you fail, tell God you want to do better, and then move on.

Laubach said this practice is life-changing. So did Brother Lawrence. Mother Teresa wouldn't go through her day without it. I want to be with them.


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