“I Went to Church to Say My Prayers There During the Liturgy”

И подойду я к жертвеннику Божию (Псалтирь 43:4)The Pilgrim’s journey begins as many hagiographic texts do with a divine calling through the Liturgy: “The first Epistle of St. Paul to the Thessalonians was being read, and among other words I heard these -‘Pray without ceasing.’  It was this text, more than any other, which forced itself upon my mind, and I began to think how it was possible to pray without ceasing, since a man has to concern himself with other things also in order to make a living.” (p.3)  A rational response!  How is it possible?  Food, clothing, shelter, family … all important concerns that must be addressed.  Ausculta filii praecepta magistri (RB Prologue:1)My own Benedictine tradition has a response to this concern, which we call the Opus Dei.  The Work of God is both the chanting of the Divine Office and the daily manual labor, “Before you begin any good work, pray to God that He may bring it to completion.” (RB Prologue:4)  But does that really answer the question of how to ‘pray without ceasing?’

It is that question which preoccupies the Pilgrim: “‘What ought I to do?’ I thought. ‘Where shall I find someone to explain it to me?'” (p.3)  I am getting ahead of myself again, so I will take a moment to back up.  What has happened in this scene?  The Pilgrim has received God’s grace.  It can be described as a wake-up call, but it is the same call that I receive countless times throughout the day; the call to holiness.  God unceasingly calls me to holiness.  Yet I, probably more often than I care to admit, don’t respond positively.  Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, woodcut for The Bible in Pictures (1860)I get caught up in all those daily tasks: meetings, class prep, grading papers, woodworking, and, yes, vegging in front of the television wins out too.  The Pilgrim has heard that light quiet sound (1Kings 19:12) of God calling, and he then proceeds to seek out God’s will.

And the Pilgrim’s search is not superficial.  He seeks out the learned clergy, traveling to places where he hears there might be someone to answer the question.  But every time the Pilgrim comes away from these sermons and lectures, he is missing something.  He has not received the answer to his question: “how it was to be done was not pointed out,” (p.3) “He did not explain the matter;” (p.4) “He did not give me the explanation.” (p.6)  The Pilgrim doesn’t want a definition of unceasing prayer, but the practical means through which unceasing prayer may be achieved in order to be in union with God.  Time and time again the Pilgrim leaves disappointed but not in despair.  He perseveres.  He doesn’t accept the easy answer – what everyone else tells him is sufficient.  He knows the path to God is unending.

Pray, Father, a wordGod’s Grace once again steps in to encourage the Pilgrim in his search.  He encounters “an old man who looked like a cleric of sorts.” (p.6)  The encounter is typical, and the Pilgrim assumes it is an offer of lodging and food; a common occurrence for a pilgrim.  He almost waves it off, but the cleric insists that the Pilgrim come with him to meet the monastery’s starets (spiritual elder).

Unceasingly the Lord calls me to Himself, and yet I do not respond as I should.  I constantly seek the easy answer or the short-way.  I need to focus on the Lord and quiet my life to hear His call.  And I need to respond with an emphatic, Yes.  I need to seek the Lord so that I can find.  I need to open the door. Or I should just stop … and the Lord is right in front of me waiting for me to sit down.  And only you, Lord, are the teacher to show me how to rest in You.

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