We must remember God more often than we draw breath. — St. Gregory of Nazianzus
Prayer is the single most important form of human activity, as it alone realizes our capacity for infinitely transcending the limits of biological existence into an unspeakably intimate relationship with the eternal God. Prayer is the primal act of transcendence out of which our mammalian nature is elevated to the heights of divine life and love.
I love to use the word transcend, which derives from two Latin root words that mean “to climb beyond.” For me, the image powerfully captures that singular characteristic of human beings to constantly press against all limits and feel driven to relentlessly transgress every boundary. And while this irrepressible inner force can at times lead us into mortal danger, it is the noble burden God placed on us chosen mammals, whom he elected to bear the icon-imprint of his own unlimited Truth and Love.
I mean, think of it — to breathe infinite spirit into an unsuspecting biped in Africa was to unleash an explosive revolution out into the world, one that has taken thousands upon thousands of years to harness sufficiently to prepare a People, and then a Woman, sufficiently ready to freely welcome the Uncircumscribed God into our very flesh and blood. And while our hostile reception of his face-to-face invitation for us to “climb beyond” with him revealed us to be far from complete, his purpose in coming was to redeem our capacity, orient it aright and show us the Way.
Per crucem ad lucem.
Seen in this light, prayer is not an act of us domesticating God to conform to our impulses and whims, but our free act of inviting God to domesticate us, to make of us house-churches ready to welcome him into the harmony and fellowship of love. Prayer allows us to join God in his masterwork of homemaking, transforming the dangerous wilderness into a Garden sanctuary — beginning with the wilderness of our own inner life. Gardens are a symbol of humanity exercising dominion over the earth in the manner of heaven, promoting not a zero sum game involving creation’s exploitation and destruction, but rather harnessing the vast forces of the cosmos toward the integral flourishing of all creatures together, in God, under our stewardship — we who were fashioned from the earth to bear the image of the Master Gardener. This was the vision of Isaiah 11:6-9:
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
So when you pray, you are allowing yourself to be apprenticed at the feet of the Master Gardener. Your acts of self-discipline, self-denial and compunction gently break up the hard clods of earth and remove the rocks. Your vocal prayer, song, reading and meditation permit the divine seeds of the Word to be planted in the soils of earth you have cultivated. Your petitions call down soft rain to water the seeds, while your intimate conversation with God dispels the clouds so the sun’s light can warm the soil and encourage the seeds to sprout. Your times of quiet contemplation protect the tender shoots as they sprout and grow, putting forth buds to blossom, while your resolutions to be a doer of the Word permit the fruit to grow and ripen into deeds of loving kindness for the life of the world.
In all of this, your life becomes a fresh Garden of Paradise on earth, a home where the human race can at last dwell in the peace of the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. This is, in the end, why we pray, so we might at last harness the Fire raging within, climb beyond the limits of our longing and bring with us the whole of creation into the Heart of God.
Go and pray! I dare you, climb beyond the limits and walk on water…