July 23, 2016
"Jesus was praying in a certain place." (Lk 11:1)
A certain place. Not just anywhere.
Was it a special place to which he would return, again and again, when circumstances allowed for retreat and renewal? Was it layered with the accumulated residue of prayers and tears, like those ancient churches with walls blackened by the effect of countless votive candles?
Back in chapter 9 of Luke's Gospel, Jesus "set his face to go to Jerusalem" (Lk 9:5), and ever since that decisive point, we have been "on the road." So, in other words, we are not at home, not among familiar people and places. There is an urgency and movement into the unknown which characterizes our daily life. Probably, then, this "certain place" was not in itself a frequent haunt of Jesus. But it was not, for all that, just anywhere.
So far in this Gospel, we have seen Jesus retreating to a "deserted place" or to "the mountain" to pray alone to his Father in anticipation of important developments in his mission: choosing disciples, going to other cities, heading for Jerusalem. So, the chosen place for solitary prayer to God does have familiar qualities - it is quiet, removed from the crowds, a place of stark natural beauty, a "thin place," as the Irish would say, where heaven and earth meet and interpenetrate.
"But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret." (Mt 6:6)
Prayer in a deserted place is prayer in secret. Everyone has a secret, for themselves alone, or perhaps shared with a trusted other. God and I share a secret. The content of that secret is the particular contours of the relationship that has developed between us over the years. "Closing the door of my room" or going to "a certain place" means that I enter into that secret, and allow the combined force of countless memories to soften and warm my heart. I let go of the armor that I wear in order to cope with daily life and the outside world. I let go of my plans, my calculations and my drive for efficiency. In my secret place, I am naked and vulnerable. I may be apprehensive, but I am not afraid, because the One whom I meet there is the One who made me.
"The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." (Lk 9:58)
Nowhere except here, in a certain place, a deserted place, a secret place.
I am that place.
Lay your head here, my Lord, and let me be your resting place.