Way of the Ascetics (Page 17 of 27)

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Chapter Sixteen: ON PRAYER

FROM the foregoing we understand that by prayer the holy Fathers are not referring to occasional prayer, morning and evening devotions and grace at meals, but for them prayer is synonymous with unceasing prayer, the life of prayer. Pray without ceasing(I Thessalonians 5:17) is to be taken as a literal command.
Understood in this way, prayer is the science of scientists and the art of artists. The artist works in clay or colours, in word or tones; according to his ability he gives them pregnancy and beauty. The working material of the praying person is living humanity. By his prayer he shapes it, gives it pregnancy and beauty: first himself and thereby many others.
The man of science studies created things and appearances; the man of prayer presses through to the Creator of created things. It is not warmth that induces his love, but the wellspring of warmth; not the functions of life, but the origin of life; not his own ego but the source of consciousness in an ego: the Creator of it.
The artist and the scientist must put in much labour and toil before they reach maturity. The skill they desire they never attain. If they were to wait for divine inspiration every time they go to work, they would never learn the principles of their profession. The violinist must practice perseveringly in order to be initiated into the secrets of his sensitive instrument. How much more sensitive is the human heart!
Draw nigh to God and he will draw nigh to you (James 4:8). It is for us to begin. If we take one step toward the Lord, He takes ten toward us He who saw the Prodigal Son while he was yet at a distance, and had compassion and ran and embraced him (Luke 15:20).
Some time you must take the first uncertain steps-if you wish at all to draw near to God. Do not be anxious about your clumsy beginning; do not yield to shyness and uncertainty, and the mocking laughter of enemies, who try to persuade you that you are behaving ridiculously and that the whole thing is only a child of fantasy and meaningless. Know that there is nothing the enemy fears like prayer.
The child’s desire to read increases as he learns to read; the further one gets into a language, the better he speaks it and the more he likes it. Enjoyment increases with proficiency. Proficiency comes with practice. Practice becomes more pleasant as proficiency increases.
Do not suppose that it is otherwise with prayer. Do not wait for some extraordinary divine inspiration before setting to work. Man is created for prayer just as he is created to speak and to think. But especially for prayer; for the Lord God put man into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it (Genesis 2:15). And where will you find the garden of Eden if not in your heart?
Like Adam, you ought to weep for the Eden of which you were deprived because of your, incontinence. You were clad in fig leaves and garments of skin (Genesis 3:21), that is your perishable substance with its suffering. Between you and the narrow way to the tree of life lay the dark flames of earthly desires, and only to him who conquers these desires will it be given to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God(Revelation 2:7).
How hard it is to win such a victory! Adam broke only one of the Lord’s commandments; daily and hourly you break them all, says St. Andrew of Crete. From your position as a hardened, constant criminal your prayer must go forth, in order to reach the heights.
The hardened criminal often is not conscious of his guilt; he is hardened. So it is with us. Do not let yourself be frightened by the hardness of your own heart. Prayer will gradually soften it.

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