October 15, 2016
“Pray always, and do not give up.” (Lk 18:1)
Pope Francis reminds us that we tire of asking for mercy much more quickly than God tires of giving it. To ask is an act of faith. The one who cries out day and night for justice believes that they will be heard, somehow, someday.
I wonder if I ask enough. What should I ask for? World peace? An end to poverty and oppression, terror and hate, natural disasters and human misery? Such prayers begin to sound hollow and empty on my lips. It seems more real to suffer and to do what is possible than to ask for impossible things. Perhaps I lack faith. Perhaps I narrow down my field of concern too much to immediate problems that I think I can fix myself. Perhaps I would really rather not rely on God any more than on anyone else. The more I allow myself to stray toward self-reliance, the more my life becomes a barren desert. When I lose you, I am lost, and the worst part is that I may not even realize it! It is not you who becomes cold, hard and distant (like the unjust judge), but me. I forget the true God and find myself carrying an idol, hard, heavy and incapable of tenderness.
But when I am encouraged to ask God for something in particular, I begin to feel within myself a lighter spirit. I am invited to rediscover the God of unending generosity, who desires my happiness more than I desire it myself. God’s tender compassion is like water from a rock. It softens the parts of me which have become dry and crispy.
In the Old Testament, especially in the Psalms, we hear a people unafraid to cry out, day and night, to give voice to longing and hope and bitterness and pain. We inherit from this people a book of words for use between human beings and God. And so life is framed by a cry to heaven:
“O God, come to my assistance;
O Lord, make haste to help me.” (Ps 69:2)
I want to live and breathe these words and others like them, allowing them to deepen my awareness and acceptance of the human condition. I want to be prayed by the prayers of humanity, plucked and resonant like a lyre.
I have a tendency to endure rather than to ask. Endurance can be mindless and meaningless, but it can also take the form of expectant trust.
“Good is the Lord to one who waits for him,
to the soul that seeks him.
It is good to hope in silence
for the saving help of the Lord.” (Lm 3:25-6)
Can’t life itself be a prayer without words? I want to dwell quietly in the hidden places of the heart, and so hold before God perpetually the empty vessel of neediness – mine and that of all people. This is my continual prayer. A beggar doesn’t need to use words. To carry a bowl is enough.
Lord, make of me a well-turned bowl, smooth and ready – ready to be filled at any moment, or to lie empty for untold ages. Let my bowl be deep as Sheol and wide as the world.