Prayer. It’s a basic necessity of life. Whatever form it comes in, whatever words or images we use, we need to not just pray, but make our entire lives a prayer. Continuing the thread from earlier, to pray is part of the 4-step formula (read, pray, reflect, and act) for engaging in Advent and for deepening one’s spiritual life in general.
In the first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul writes,
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. (1 Thes 5:16-19)
What I love about this is Paul’s instance on ALWAYS — always, without ceasing, all circumstances! He leaves no room for mistake. Prayer is to be part of our lives through and through. But how? How can we pray always when we have a hard enough time fitting in a quiet moment or a visit to a sacred space?
Being a visual person, I always imaged that what Paul meant was that we go about our daily routine but off to the side we maintain a constant litany of prayers, prayer requests, and the such, much like a news ticker just keeps on going just at the bottom of our TV screens while the “real” drama unfolds above.
As compelling as this image is to me (admit it, you’ve got a news ticker going through your imagination right now!), I’m not sure that this is what Paul meant when he said to pray without ceasing. There are many ways to interpret what Paul meant … and for each one of us, we must live these words in a way unique to ourselves and God’s calling to us. Here’s a bit of how Saint Augustine of Hippo reads these words:
For not without a meaning did the Apostle say, “Pray without ceasing.” (1 Thess. v. 17) Are we to be “without ceasing” bending the knee, prostrating the body, or lifting up our hands, that he says, “Pray without ceasing”? Or if it is in this sense that we say that we “pray,” this, I believe, we cannot do “without ceasing.” There is another inward kind of prayer without ceasing, which is the desire of the heart. Whatever else you are doing, if you do but long for that Sabbath, you do not cease to pray. If you would never cease to pray, never cease to long after it. The continuance of thy longing is the continuance of thy prayer. You will be ceasing to speak, if you cease to long for it. (Commentary on Psalm 37)
Saint Augustine uses the images of desire and of longing to describe what praying without ceasing means. It reminds me of Thomas Merton’s prayer in which he says even the desire to please God is pleasing to God.
What image comes to mind for you when you think about praying without ceasing? Do you have any particular customs for prayer specific to the season of Advent?
I love your ticker idea – if there were a spiritual version of CNN with a prayer ticker at the bottom, I would subscribe to it!
Praying without ceasing is something I’ve thought about the last couple of years, as I found this desire coming up in me for the first time. I was very touched reading Way of a Pilgrim, and the Russian pilgrim’s constant commitment to repeating the Jesus Prayer through all his travails, but this is something I haven’t yet been able to do in my daily life. Sometimes I come back to that desire to love God as being the same as loving God, and try to surround myself in that desire like a soft, white light. I imagine it permeating me, and that atmosphere of light I try to carry with me as a constant “prayer.”
I like the idea of doing everything I do for God as if in the presence of God always. True, I do not always do as I wish I would. Thank you for reminding me.
Thomas Kelly, in his book, “A Testament of Devotion” recommends a way of prayer in which one goes about daily life while being always mindful of God – I think he speaks of “seeing earth through heaven.” While doing the ordinary business of life, one keeps an inner dialogue going with God, and that “God-consciousness” permeates the ordinary. I read this book more than 50 years ago – and many times since – because it’s a simple and do-able way of living consciously in the presence of God.