So there I was, sitting in Adoration. Every particle of my being seemed to be bathed in glory and resonating with — okay, so actually, I was going over sparring techniques in my head, while grooving slightly to the Paul Simon1 playing on my interior soundtrack.
Because that’s how it usually goes. And certainly, much or all of this is my fault. I could be stricter with myself, I could be more vigilant, I could set myself more definite prayer times, could practice particular prayer “techniques”; maybe work through the Ignatian exercises, or get serious about Lectio Divina.
All of that’s true, and it would all help — but it wouldn’t make every single prayer session sweet and vivid and palpably intense, wouldn’t turn them all into the kind of prayer I think of as “successful.”
God could do this if he wanted to. He could do it every day. I know this because He’s done it before. My mood, my apathy, my laziness, my propensity to self-distraction — none of these are insuperable barriers for him, and they all evaporate if He wills it. Those times that prayer has made me glow, catch fire: those didn’t happen because I was paying extra attention, or disciplining myself extra hard. They Just Happened, which is to say, God gave them to me, for free.
But He doesn’t always, and He doesn’t usually. Why not? I’m not sure, but there’s a clue in this: prayer is like writing, almost exactly like it, for two reasons.
The first reason is this: one of the most important parts of writing is when you’re not writing. If you glide through every day doing your best to distract yourself, to fill in every bit of silence with noise or talking or music, then you will sit down to write and nothing will happen, because your mind has remained on the surface of life. Nothing’s been planted during the day, because nothing’s been allowed to take root.
Anthony Bloom says2 that prayer and action are two sides of the same coin, and that if your life is not prayerful, your prayer will not be lively; and of course vice versa.3
The second reason is this: it’s beautiful when writing Just Happens, when you sit down and your pen just flows with pure fire. But it’ll never Just Happen unless you do the work of blankly sitting in front of a blank screen while nothing appears to be happening at all. The blank times till the soil and plant the seeds.
That doesn’t mean we should feel free to sit in front of the Blessed Sacrament and do nothing but replay martial arts flicks in our heads. It does mean that times like these — when all we want is for the half hour to be up, so we can escape the blank gaze of the Eucharist and get back to whatever Important Thing we were doing — this is when the work happens. This is when the roots can really start to go deep.
No plowing, no seeds; no seeds, no flowers; no flowers, no fruit.