Killer prayer

Have you ever looked at your prayer book with the distinct feeling of ‘I hate you, I hate you, I hate you?’ Have you felt totally useless spiritually,  unable to move forward for one tiny step? Do you, in fact, feel that you are going backwards, rather than advancing in any way; that your prayer life is worse today than yesterday, and definitely worse than a year ago? Well, in that case, rejoice, for this is the sure sign that your prayer is working.

I’ve met so many people this weekend… each with their personal story, personal challenges, personal sources of happyness and pain. Everywhere though, questions and worries concerning prayer take over the conversation in a matter of minutes. The basic thing people seem not to understand is that the point of prayer is not happiness – the reason we pray is not so that we feel happy and fulfilled.

By prayer, our saints say, we get closer to God; unfortunately, getting closer to God means we have to get closer to ourselves first, closer to our own hearts, because that is where Christ reveals Himself – and getting to know one’s own heart is nasty business; getting to know who you really are is never fun, never a fulfilling or comforting experience.

When your prayer kills you on the inside, let it. And give thanks. When your prayer exposes the small person that you are in front of your own conscience, let it. And give thanks. These years of pain, these years of staring at one’s prayer book and wondering how did one get so low and miserable, so utterly unable to control one’s thoughts, one’s feelings, one’s attention, one’s passions, these years when you go down in your own personal hell and you discover that this is where you belong, that there is nothing alive in you, nothing holy in you – these years are the years your prayer IS working. This is the time you’re keeping yourself open for God to strat re-creating you, re-shaping you into who you really are.

These are painful years, when nothing good seems to live in us, but these years will teach you so many things about yourself, things you would never learn otherwise. You learn your limitations, you learn humility, you learn repentance, you learn obedience, you learn not to judge, not to condemn – for, how could you judge and condemn anyone, when you yourself are spiritually dead and surviving only out of God’s love and mercy?

These years are the foundation for all your future years. I think about these years as the foundation to a house – my life. Make sure, make absolutely sure that you have a strong, healthy foundation; otherwise, no matter what you build on top of it, it will crumble sooner or later.

This prayer is just a stage, of course. When God sees that the foundation is ready, you will break through, and things will be different. Don’t despair and don’t give up – for now, just rejoice because you know your prayer is working. You’re gradually learning the truth about yourself, you’re gradually leaving behind the idolatric images of your self that you or those around you have built for years. As you leave these fake images behind, you’re getting closer to your real self, you gain knowledge about who you really are and, in time, this self-knowledge will be the foundation for knowledge and love for God.

Let this prayer kill you. It’s not you who’s dying, not your real self, but the fake and prideful self you’ve learnt to mistake for who you really are. Let this prayer kill this fake self, let this prayer help you discover your real name, your real personhood. Don’t get down from the cross of this prayer. Remember that after the Cross – and only after – Christ’s Resurrection awaits you: You, the real one.

20 responses

  • I loved the theme of your note on letting your prayer go ahead and kill you. No better way to find Grace than to allow ourselves to Die until there is nothing left but a hallowed space. – And then go forward, never again to become Babylon. The Fool who makes a Tower of worldy substance must await its Fall, as all worldly substance, eventually returns to dust. Let the Temple built without Hands be that which is Resurrected in its place. Despite the dark theme, the Message is encouraging. If we could always understand in our crumbling, that there lies hidden, opportunity for further Light and Nurturing, should we “Die Right”, we would all Let Go without dragging the suffering on for so long. Here’s to our Blessed Demise, where The Christ within can finally take inner Throne. Thank you! Peace.

    • Thank you, dear Amy. Please keep me and the monastery in your prayers; I need strength and health to complete the work God entrusted me. I hope to meet you one day face to face. May we all be blessed.

  • I love prayer l never hate is God,if you seek nothing from it,it will always be full of goodness and love,I am full of other unhappiness stress health and my problems moods.But prayer is separate to those things as it is the supernatural, the rest is human and sin.

    • Thank you for this life-giving reflection. It confirms what I just experienced in my own discipleship. There are so many ways in which I am blessed by prayer.

      i am blessed by the way in which it brings me into contact with my tendency to get bored; to want to be entertained by my spirituality; the desire for the novel; the quick way; a need to measure my own progress and be offered, by God, some form of gratification (feelings and worthwhile “take aways”) rather than trust that the life-giving way is/will bear the fruit that lasts.

      • Dear Lazarus, you’ve managed to say in a few lines what I was trying to express in many paragraphs! Prayer brings you face to face with your true self, it works almost like a mirror which God places in front of you. For most of us, it takes a lifetime to accept the horrible person we see in this mirror, and the ‘normal’ reaction is to stop looking in the mirror (that is, to stop praying). But this experience teaches us humility, it teaches us repentance – all the things you’ve mentioned. Thank you for your words. Please pray for me and the monastery.

    • Dear Rosalie, you are truly blessed if that is the case; may God preserve your prayer and make it flourish. I am especially happy for you for you if your experience is confirmed and encouraged by your spiritual father. My own experience is different from yours: prayer was (and often still is) the most difficult thing in my life, so difficult that I’d rather do anything else except pray. I’m weaker than you are, but I’m comforted in this weakness by the experience and confirmation of many of our saints; most of them agree that there is nothing more difficult, nothing more challenging than prayer. May God bless all of us.

      • I am sorry,I feel rather arrogant,I did not realize that people struggle with prayer so much.I have nearly lost my life as many times as a cat,perhaps that is why prayer is so kind to me.I think when a person has been through great danger and with me several times,God has given me this grace,as I said this does not mean I am a happy person or a good person, I have a lot of problems,but thank God for the joy and ease of prayer,I would and could not live today.much love God bless Rosalie,I am sixty,things do also come with age!!

  • Father, your words on killer prayer – exactly what I needed to hear. So inspiring were they that I would like, with your permission, to print your words and distribute them amongst our community (Basildon in Essex, All Saints Church). I am sure they will be as inspiring for others as they were for me. Thank you.

    • Dear Theodora, thank you for your kindness. Do whatever you think is useful (print, share, distribute etc), but do it with the blessing of your parish priest – he knows best what is useful for the people in your parish. I am happy you found strength and courage in this – glory be to God. Please pray for me.

  • I will add you and the monastery’s development and ongoing life to my daily prayers. I look forward to visiting this site regularly to mine the riches contained herein.

  • I found myself in every single word …. Hope one day we’ll see each other again. Praying for you and all the world

    • Glory be to God. It’s natural that we should recognise our own weakness in others; temptation is never creative. We are all tempted in the same ways, there is no originality in sin. We become ‘original’ through the manner in which we respond to temptation; our fight against sin is what makes us unique, not sinning.

      • Oh I love this …”our fight against sin is what makes us unique, not sinning”…every single word is an answer to my questions . Glory to God for putting this words in your mind wich help me to find myself . Maybe one day we can share more …till then prayers and love from our Cathedral family

  • “These are painful years… These years are the foundation for all your future years. I think about these years as the foundation to a house – my life… This prayer is just a stage, of course.”

    This is true. Could I venture an image? I like to conceive of the Christian life/journey as being like an upward spiral instead of a line. Your words could be confusing if read linearly. But, if read in a spiral context they make deep sense. The “killer” character of prayer is not a “stage” we pass through, never to return. We progress by visiting the “stage” over and over. And, each time we have moved along The Way. With a line, it is a stage, which by necessity we must never visit again except with the conclusion that in so doing we have failed and must “try harder.”

    I like the spiral. It gives me the opportunity to cooperate with the Holy Spirit’s work of deification.

    Perhaps that is one of the reasons that Celtic art is filled with spirals and not straight lines… Filled with the weaving of multiple simultaneous realities (the spiral) instead of one and then the other (the straight line).


  • I fear my words are too bare. Let me be clearer in my wording…

    The spiral gives me the opportunity to embrace the “killing” with a joyful sorrow rather than push it away as a condemnation and statement of shame. I can, via the spiral image/paradigm, i have sacred space in which to cooperate with the Holy Spirit’s work of deification in an expansive, life-giving way. By means of this image I can appreciate my oneness with all things and persons.

    • Dear Fr Thomas, I suppose this is more a discussion of how one views time, and that is one tough discussion for 00:45 am 🙂 I’d briefly say that time, in the spiritual life (and limited to my own insignificant experience) is more like a point, a pulsating point, or a point bursting with energy. I mean this in the simplest way – I feel spiritual evolution doesn’t imply a change as such, but rather an intensification of all my spiritual life: my hell becomes much more intense, my heaven much brighter; my hope gets stronger, at the same time my self-abandonment gains more strength.
      I know it doesn’t make much sense, but I try not to enforce logic on these things, and to allow God the freedom to work His wonderful ways of salvation in me. But I take comfort remembering that the greatest saints died convinced they were worthy of hell – in other words, when they died, they experienced simultaneously Heaven and hell, the whole range of possible human spirituality.
      I know this doesn’t help much; I did say I wouldn’t 🙂 Forgive me.

      • Actually your image or paradigm of a pulsating point is very helpful. I guess I was reacting to your use of what I understood as “linear language.” My use of the spiral is my meager attempt to approach what you have just described so aptly. The whole western obsession with “cause and effect” and judgments about “progress” (see Lazarus’ comment above) gets touched when words like “stage” or “phase” are used to speak of our journey of salvation. It is a paradox because at one and the same time we do “move” from one emphasis to another only to move back again to the other emphasis and yet we are in every stage all at the same time. Thus, the spiral or the pulsating point images are more apt than the linear image.

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