I was at a staff retreat recently given by Archbishop Alfred Hughes, and took copious notes. I thought I would share three of these journaled points with you today as I personally found them very rich. I left them unedited. They intersperse his insights with the insights they provoked in me. Archbishop’s phrases are italicized, mine are the rest.
1. Prayer is ultimately about the heart, about learning to speak to God with both affection and awe; with all the tension inherent in “daring” to call God “Father.” What does praying with the heart feel like? How do you know you’re doing it? When you find an array of emotions entering your conversations with God: joy, sadness, anger, fear, confusion, lust, even bland apathy. Heart-prayer does not limit expressions of prayer to only “acceptable” feelings like trust, joy, reverence. We need to pray out of our life-experience so that God can enter into that life experience with His saving power. Heart-prayer is when you pray “intentionally,” meaning you attend to God’s presence, pray “before His face” very near you, with focus. When I speak with my wife and my mental attention wanders off while she’s speaking, she can immediately tell — usually I’ll use auto-responses like “sure,” “right” or “okay” inappropriately. She might say: “Hello? Are you with me?” lol And my attention returns to her. When we both attend to each other, there’s intimacy. When I am listening attentively to her word, internalizing it and responding out of that word directly to her, I am truly speaking “heart to heart.” And vice versa. My wife has proved herself absolutely trustworthy to me in the 28 year history of our relationship — and so I can speak from the heart de profundis, “out of the depths,” without fear. Defined by the promises of our marriage which give our love the shape of totality, she is my most intimate confidant to whom I can reveal the deepest, darkest, best, most vulnerable portions of my inner world. “The heart of her husband trusts in her…she does him good, not harm…” (Prov 31:11-12). Knowing she listens with love, with care, receives me into herself as she listens. That she gives me encouragement and insight as well as honesty and truth and challenge. All of these things make of our communication an exchange of hearts. God stands at the door of our hearts and knocks, waiting for our consent for Him to enter and begin a conversation. A real one. A deep one. An authentic one. Cor ad cor loquitur, “heart speaks to heart.”
So it is with God as Father. Who He is for me, and I for Him makes our every encounter an encounter of hearts. In Jesus He has revealed His identity as a Father who is absolutely trustworthy and in love with mankind in general, and me in particular (cf John 14:9; 16:27). And to invite my trust in this, He has bared His Heart to us first, manifested His longing desire for each of us (John 19:28, 34; 1 Pet. 5:7), so that we might have the courage to trust Him and do the same in return. Every broken experience of fatherhood in this world Jesus wishes to repair by bringing to us the Father. God is also the awesome God, the holy-holy-holy other, beyond all language, wielding unspeakable power; and yet He is in essence love, the defining core of His identity as Father. To enter into the mystery of heart-prayer with God is to risk an exodus from the narrow confines of our sin-sick shallow lives out into the horizonless and fathomless Ocean of God’s fierce-tenderness that reveals an infinite love; a love that counts the hairs on my head. This Father has also all of the attentiveness and tenderness of a mother’s affection (Is. 66:13). “Hearts unfold like flowers before Him, opening to the Sun above…”
2. The Our Father teaches us that prayer is about letting God be God and not simply trying to convince Him to do our bidding. Because God is this kind of Father, we know that in His will is our peace. Much of our prayer, especially in the face of suffering and evil, often looks less like the surrendering trust of a small child raising his hands toward his daddy, and more like the fearful bargaining of an abused child who assumes that his father wishes him harm. The Our Father is really an extended consent to God to do-His-will; to carry out His providential plan in us. We say, in essence, in me (1) reveal the holiness of your Name; (2) make your kingdom come; (3) carry out your will completely; a will which looks like (4) feeding us superabundantly; (4) forgiving us so we might pay forgiveness forward; (6) empowering us to resist yielding to destructive temptation; and (7) liberating us from the Evil One. 4-7 show that the consent of 1-3 is always good for us, permitting a truly provident, loving, redeeming Father to care for us.
But we know from His crucified and risen Son that the playing out of the divine will in real-time takes the form of trust and obedient, self-sacrificing love. When given to God (Rom 12:1), the whole catastrophe of our lives becomes a eucatastrophe, a “good disaster” that resolves tragedy into a divine comedy. Such a handing over of the whole mess to God always yields the fruits of life and love and peace and justice and reconciliation and every other good thing — the meaning of the resurrection of Jesus – — as God gathers up, glorifies and preserves all good, and redeems all evil for unending ages in the Age to Come. Hope. Trust in this God is possible — unshakably so — because His Son blazed a trail ahead of us; He who was made perfect through suffering (Heb. 2:10; 5:8) in the darkness of Friday, impregnating Friday with the bright dawn of Sunday.
3. Prayer gives God permission to heal our false self (based in the compulsive need to prove our worth) and draw out our true self (based in our dignity as being unconditionally loved). Our attitude toward life is shaped by a thousand hidden premises formed in our earliest years of life. As we grow older wisdom requires us to examine and redact these premises as needed. In prayer, we give God permission to redact, edit our false premises and rewrite in their place true premises (Jer. 31:33). So many of these! This is the Church’s whole teaching that flows from Sacred Scripture. The most fundamental premise is this: our life, our very existence is grounded first and foremost in God’s unconditional, free, gratuitous, irrevocable, exceedingly particular and boundless love. Love! And love has been very specifically defined by God’s self-disclosure in Jesus, who is Himself God’s definition of both human and divine love (John 1:1-18). To embrace that basic premise is to discover a life grounding revolution, the liberating truth of who we are as loved to the core. Again, prayer is the permission for God to edit and re-write our faulty inner manuscripts and pen in us our new name (Rev. 2:17).
I can’t not end with Screen: