The Monastery of Christ in the Desert, Abiquiu, New Mexico, U.S.A., was founded in 1964 by Fr. Aelred Wall, OSB, with monks of Mount Saviour Monastery in New York state. In 1983 the Monastery of Christ in the Desert was received into the English Province of the Subiaco Congregation as a Conventual Priory and in 1996 became an autonomous abbey.
My friend and classmate, Paul, is going to enjoy the last week of August at the Monastery of Christ in the Desert, in New Mexico. Paul says it is a holy and quiet place. Looking at the picture above, I would have to say - it must be a wonderful place for prayer, reflection and contemplation. Every word of Holy Scripture is a teaching. If Our Lord spent time in the desert, it must be special.
Paul sent me this reflection about prayer, written by Abbot Philip Lawrence, OSB. I would like to share it with you.
What is Prayer?
The old definition from the Baltimore Catechism has always been a guide to prayer. It states that prayer is the lifting up of our minds and hearts to God to adore Him, to thank Him for His benefits, to ask His forgiveness, and to beg of Him all the graces we need whether for soul or body.
At the basis of all prayer is this lifting up of the mind and the heart. Lifting up the mind indicates that our thinking, our intelligence, must be focused on the Lord. Perhaps we cannot focus completely or with great concentration, but we can try to focus our mind on God, lifting the mind up to God. Lifting the heart up indicates that we need to let our emotions and our feelings be with God and not elsewhere. This also can be a great challenge, especially if we are in a situation of emotional stress or difficulty.
Think for a minute about the monk in the monastery who comes to Church.
He brings with him everything that is going on in his life. We humans can be both so simple and so complex! When a monk comes to Church, he brings his whole self. He must learn how to focus that self, both mind and heart, on the Lord. If the monks has been totally involved in some activity that demanded mental attention right before coming to Church, it will be a bit of a struggle to disengage from one focus and move to another. If a brother has just had a conflict with another brother before coming to Church, there will also be struggle.
As we begin the work of praying in our lives, we begin to find all of the obstacles that can be in the way of praying. Perhaps we can narrow the obstacles down to these two elements: purifying the mind and purifying the heart. This is another way of saying that we must learn to transform the energies within us so that in prayer our energies are focused on God.
Part of the discipline of being a monk is supposed to be the capacity to stop whatever he is doing at the sound of the bell, then go to Church and start praying. Far too often the monk thinks that he can just go to Church and pray. What most often happens is that the monk goes to Church and does not pray, but continues to think about what he was just doing while saying the words of prayer.
For all of us it is the same, whether we are monks or not. I remember
being told about some eastern Christian teachings in which the challenge is to bring the feelings and the intellect both into the heart and unite them in the presence of God. The feelings in this model were understood as being centered in the belly, below the heart. The intellect was understood as being centered in the head. Both feeling and thinking had to be brought together in the heart, which could then be in the presence of the living God.
It is important in our lives that we pray, but also that we think about
what happens in our prayer and how we pray. We begin to find that prayer can be very difficult. For most of us, when we are in difficulties or face enormous challenges, prayer is fairly easy. The difficulties and the challenges serve as a force that unites our minds and our hearts in prayer. We turn to God because we seem to have no other choice.
In daily life, however, we can find ourselves avoiding prayer because
there seem to be so many other ways to get things done! If I need to write a letter, why should I pray? I can write without praying! If I need to clean my room, why should I pray? Surely I can clean the room without praying! We begin to think that we can do most of our living without praying, because it seems to work. Then we are confronted with some crisis, some awful situation, some tragedy—and we recognize that only prayer is effective, so we pray.
The challenge for us who follow the Lord Jesus is to learn to pray always, not only when we are in crisis or in a terrible situation—but always! We can begin to recognize that living is always about living in faith. Living is always about lifting our hearts and our minds to God.
When we do not pray, we begin to live in a world of illusion, in which we think that we control what happens, that we are able to do most of our living without God. Once we begin to pray seriously, we can recognize that all living is really about living in God, about praying, and lifting our hearts and our minds to the Lord.
*** In the beginning of my blogging career, I posted a story about my friend Paul.
I would like you all to read it. You will see how special Paul is to so many people.
Link here > Angels Walk Among Us