Skip to main content

Reverence in Prayer

Thursday, June 27, 2024
Chapter 20

Whenever we want to ask a favor of someone powerful, we do it humbly and respectfully, for fear of presumption. How much more important, then, to lay our petitions before the God of all with the utmost humility and sincere devotion. We must know that God regards our purity of heart and tears of compunction, not our many words. Prayer should therefore be short and pure, unless perhaps it is prolonged under the inspiration of divine grace. In community, however, prayer should always be brief; and when the prioress or abbot gives the signal, all should rise together.

The rabbis taught: "The first time a thing occurs in nature, it is called a miracle; later it becomes natural, and no attention is paid to it. Let your worship and your prayer be a fresh miracle every day to you. Only such worship, performed from the heart, with enthusiasm, is acceptable." The function of prayer is not to establish a routine; it is to establish a relationship with the God who is in relationship with us always. The function of times of prayer, then, is not to have us say prayers, it is to enable our lives to become a prayer outside of prayer, to become "pure of heart," one with God, centered in the truth that is Truth and the power that is Power and the love that is Love.

The function of prayer is to bring us into touch with ourselves, as well. To the ancients, "tears of compunction" were the sign of a soul that knew its limits, faced its sins, accepted its needs and lived in hope. That's what Benedict wants for those who live the prayer life he describes, not long hours spent in chapel but a lifetime lived in the spirit of God because the chapel time was swift and strong, quick and deep, brief but soul-shaking. Prayer is "to be short and pure," he says, not long and tedious, not long and majestic, not long and grand. No, Benedictine prayer is to be short and substantial and real. The rest of life is to be impelled by it. To live in church, as far as Benedict is concerned, is not necessarily a sign of holiness. To live always under the influence of the scriptures and to live in the breath of the Spirit is.

There are some who would look at the Rule of Benedict and be surprised that it does not contain a discourse on prayer instead of simply the description of a form of prayer. The fact is, of course, that Benedict does not theorize about the nature and purpose of prayer. All he does, with every choice he makes of the versicles and alleluias and Jesus Prayers and psalms and length of it, is to demonstrate it and steep us in it until the theory becomes the thing.