Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18).
I have been overcome with grief at times, and felt my heart like a stone in my breast, it was so heavy, and always I have heard, too, that voice, “Pray.”
What can we do? We can pray. We can pray without ceasing, as Saint Paul said. We can say with the apostles, “Lord, teach me to pray.” We can say with Saint Paul, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” (Acts 9:6). Will our Father give us a stone when we ask for bread?
We remember Jesus’ words, “I tell you solemnly once again, if two of you on earth agree to ask anything at all, it will be granted to you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them” (Matt. 18:19–20).
There is another bit of scripture which stands out in my mind these days. It is this: “Where sin abounded, there did grace more abound” (Rom. 5:20). Resting in this promise, I am content.
So I resolved then to be more careful not to omit certain devotions that I let myself off from on account of my irregular life and fatigue. After all, when I have been working from seven until twelve at night, or traveling fifteen hours by bus, I can realize all the more these words, “Can you not watch with me one hour?” (Matt 26:40). That, I have resolved, is to be my motto for the coming year, in order to foster recollection.
“Can you not watch with me one hour?”
I shall remember this whenever I am tired and want to omit prayer, the extra prayers I shall set myself. Because after all I am going to try to pray the simplest, humblest way, with no spiritual ambition.
Morning prayers, in my room before going to Mass. I always omit them, rushing out of the house just in time as I do. If I were less slothful it would be better....
Around the middle of the day to take, even though it be to snatch, fifteen minutes of absolute quiet, thinking about God and talking to God.
The thing to remember is not to read so much or talk so much about God, but to talk to God.
To practice the presence of God.
Many young people have come here and worked with us, and they tell us after a while that they have learned a lot and are grateful to us, but they disagree with us on various matters – our pacifism, our opposition to the death penalty, our interest in small communities, and our opposition to the coercive power of the state. You people are impractical, they tell us, nice idealists, but not headed anywhere big and important. They are right. We are impractical, as one of us put it, as impractical as Calvary. There is no point in trying to make us into something we are not. We are not another community fund group, anxious to help people with some bread and butter and a cup of coffee or tea. We feed the hungry, yes; we try to shelter the homeless and give them clothes, if we have some, but there is a strong faith at work; we pray. If an outsider who comes to visit doesn’t pay attention to our praying and what that means, then he’ll miss the whole point of things.
During a visit to her daughter Tamar’s growing family:
How to lift the heart to God, our first beginning and last end, except to say with the soldier about to go into battle – “Lord, I’ll have no time to think of thee, but do thou think of me.” Of course, there is grace at meals, a hasty grace, what with Sue trying to climb out of her high chair on the table. Becky used to fold her hands and look holy at the age of eighteen months, but now she does nothing. If you invite her participation, she says, “I won’t.” If you catch Sue in a quiet, un-hungry mood, she will be docile and fold her hands. But rarely. She is usually hungry, and when she starts to eat she starts to hum, which is thanks too.
But there is that lull in the morning before the mailman comes when I can take out the missal and read the epistle and gospel for the day.... That is refreshment always.
“The language of the Gospels, the style used by our Lord, leads us more directly to contemplation than the technical language of the surest and loftiest theology,” Garrigou-Lagrangefootnote says. So this reading, directly from the Gospels and the epistles of Saint Paul, is the best I can have. The author of The Cloud of the Unknowingfootnote talks of the conscious stretching out of the soul to God. So I must try harder to pause even for a fraction of a minute over and over again throughout the day, to reach toward God.
Now don’t think that I’ve lost my mind – but I’ll tell you, I’ll look at some of the cards I have, some of Van Gogh’s pictures of the poor, the coal miners, or Daumier’s, and I talk to those pictures! I look, and I speak. I get strength from the way those writers and artists portrayed the poor, that’s how I’ve kept going all these years. I pray to God and go visit him in churches; and I have my conversational time with Van Gogh or with Dickens – I mean, I’ll look at a painting reproduced on a postcard, that I use as a bookmark, or I read one of those underlined pages in one of my old books, and Lord, I’ve got my strength to get through the morning or afternoon! When I die, I hope people will say that I tried to be mindful of what Jesus told us – his wonderful stories – and I tried my best to live up to his example (we fall flat on our faces all the time, though!) and I tried to take those artists and novelists to heart, and live up to their wisdom (a lot of it came from Jesus, as you probably know, because Dickens and Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy kept thinking of Jesus themselves all through their lives).
Dryness and lack of recollection can be good signs too, you know. God usually gives comfort to weak souls who need encouragement, and when they have progressed somewhat and he thinks they are strong enough to bear it, he permits this dryness. If you are faithful to your morning and evening prayers, and make your morning offering, and carry your rosary in your pocket so that you will remember to say even a part of it every day, you will be getting along fine. If you have to force yourself to pray, those prayers are of far more account with God than any prayers which bring comfort with them. That act of will is very important.
- Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange, 1877–1964, French Catholic theologian and Dominican priest
- An anonymous work written in the late fourteenth century as a guide to contemplative prayer