In fact, everything that we have in our minds before the time of prayer is inevitably brought back by memory when we are praying. So whatever kind of people we want to be in our prayer time, we want to be before we begin to pray. St. John Cassian, Conferences.
I found this quotation from Cassian in today’s reading in a wonderful little book, Drinking from the Hidden Fountain: A Patristic Breviary. In The Conferences (written between 426 and 429 A.D.), Cassian surveyed much of the work of the Desert Fathers. The Desert Fathers, along with Cassian, provided the foundation of the monastic movement.
St. Cassian reminds us that we cannot separate our prayer life from the balance of our lives. We cannot separate the way we pray from the way we live. If our lives are rushed, jumbled and frantic, our prayers will reflect that. If our lives are self-centered or consumed by pettiness, our prayer lives will not be much different. If our relationships with our brothers and sisters are shallow and insincere, our relationship with the One God will reflect that as well.
We work so hard to compartmentalize our lives. We tell ourselves: “This is the face I show at work; this is the way I act with my friends; and this is the kind of person I want to project at prayer.” Ultimately, I think we’ll find that God sees through these persona, sees beyond the walls we try to build. We can trust that His love exceeds even our capacity to fool ourselves. Rabbi Heschel wrote that “To pray is to dream in league with God, to envision His holy visions.”
Cassian rightly notes that as we approach the Almighty in prayer, we bring our lives before Him, whether we intend to or not. Thus, the Christian life calls us into that process of continual conversion, until our daily lives perfectly reflect the kind of person we want to bring to God in prayer, a person who can rightly share in God’s “holy visions”. We are all already in a conversation with God, whether we know it or not. Cassian asks how authentic, how honest and how loving we want that conversation to be.
God watch over thee and me,
James R. Dennis, O.P.
© 2011 James R. Dennis