To pray without ceasing is to pray with the heart. So we have been taught by spiritual masters who well understand the folly and impossibility of reciting or thinking conscious prayers without end. A friend, a home renovator who works mostly alone, told me his wife once asked him, “What do you think about all day?” “Nothing,” he said. “Really?” she wondered. “If I start thinking about things,” he explained, “I will likely saw off my fingers or worse.” There is a time for every purpose under heaven. When the band saw is running, the mind should stay with the sound and the line and a singular purpose. “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of heaven” (Luke 9:62).
The prayer of the heart would, however, be nothing more than the background noise of the cultural religion one imbibes simply by living in one place and time, if not for moments, times, and seasons of disciplined prayer in the tradition of the Church’s language. What the Church has taught, confessed, and believed may gain a foothold only if time is given to the matter. In cultivating faith, as in acquiring any knowledge, repletion is the mother of all learning. And, if time is given to private and corporate prayer, to the sacraments and seasons of the Church, and if this is done with an eye fixed, as the Incarnation demands, to the realities of life, then a Christian conscience will feel and know these words: “Out of the depths I cry to you” (Ps. 130:1). The question will arise, “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help and you will not listen?” (Hab. 1:2). Prayer is this deep pain, a groan issued from the hard wood of a bloody cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). Adoration, praise, and thanksgiving will not and should not blunt this sorrow.
Seeing the world, faith sees great and small beauties, large and modest examples of goodness, bold and discreet witnesses to truth, but faith also looks with searing pain and clarity on the suffering of a broken world. “The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones” (Ezek. 37:1). A clash of cultures is not needed to provoke or advance this vision. It simply is the condition of a fallen race. “The flesh is death,” headed toward its dissolution and placement among the dead (Rom. 8:6). The bones are many and they are very dry. What will God do?
“Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. … I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord” (Ezek. 37:4-6). These bones are the whole house of Israel, and these bones are assumed and saved in the recapitulation that is Christ our Lord. Speaking to all these bones, Jesus says, “Lazarus, come forth” (John 11:43). And there was a noise and a rattling, and the bones came together. They did and they still do and they will in the fullness of time. Those bones will live in that place where there is no pain or death and upon the earth’s soil where, no less, Christ is.
Look It Up
Read John 11:21; 11:32. These women are in pain.
Think About It
Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.