I am reading with pleasure Home, by Marilynne Robinson. Written through the story are wonderful lines that demonstrate the complexity of family relationships intertwined with religious practice and feeling. Here is one of those reflecting on prayer.
“It seemed to her that her own prayers never attained to that level of seriousness. They had been desperate from time to time, which was a different thing altogether. Her father told his children to prayer for patience, for courage, for kindness, for clarity, for trust, for gratitude. Those prayers will be answered, he said. Others may not be. The Lord knows your needs. So she prayed, Lord, give me patience. She knew that was not an honest prayer, and she did not linger over it. The right prayer would have been, Lord my brother treats me like a hostile stranger, my father seems to have put me aside, I feel I have no place here in what I thought would be my refuge, I am miserable and bitter in heart, and old fears are rising up in me so that everything I do makes everything worse. But it cost her tears to think her situation might actually be that desolate, so she prayed again for patience, for tact, for understanding – for every virtue that might keep her safe from the conflicts that would be sure to leave her wounded, every virtue that might at least help her preserve an appearance of dignity, for heaven’s sake.” (Marilynne Robinson, Home, p69)
Such a reflection is a wonderful opportunity to reflect on our own prayer life. Is our prayer honest? Do we actually open up our hearts to God or are we so frightened of our own inner being that our hearts are veiled with right sounding words as we pray? And could it be that our prayer life begins to fade because we are frightened of dealing with ourselves?
Sometimes by the time we get to pray we have already fretted and considered. By the time we come to God, our prayers reveal the solution to our crisis. God give me what I believe I need so that this moment will pass leaving me with the “appearance of dignity”. Sometimes in our better moments we say “not my will but yours be done” while fervently hoping that there is no cross in our future.
And then there is God who, I imagine, knows our hearts and is longing simply to embrace us, to love us in Christ into the wonder of a place and time when we know ourselves to be deeply loved, fully accepted and intensely engaged in the holy work of our humanity.
The interplay of our hearts and God’s heart is the stuff of Spiritual formation. Certainly this paragraph in Home can help us reflect on the dynamic of our prayer life with the Lord.