Allowing God to See Us
A thought on St Antony’s Day. (January 17th)
I was having a conversation with somebody recently and we got onto relationships and, in particular, our relationship with God. This led us to thinking about what form our prayer with God takes and how, so often, it’s about just talking and asking, interceding for others and generally verbal. Many of us aren’t all that good about silent praying which takes the form of meditation or contemplation.
In our conversation, we thought that part of the reason why we might shy away from non-verbal prayer is because it involves us in listening rather than talking and we don’t always want to hear what God is saying to us.
In what is known as the Desert Tradition of Prayer there is a lot of wisdom about how we should approach God and about how we develop our relationship with Him.
This wisdom comes to us through stories about the holy men and women who, when Christianity began to be ‘respectable’, took themselves off into the desert to be alone with God. This ‘aloneness wasn’t easy – they weren’t, as it were, getting away from it all for a nice rest or quiet time!
Prayer for them involved struggle – first with self and then with what they knew to be demons or the mischief of the devil. Only through this struggle did they come to recognize the pureness of God’s voice, or presence.
It’s rather like the struggle Elijah had on the mountain after he fled away from King Ahab after his wife Jezebel stirred up trouble for him – (see1 Kings 19). Elijah went into the wilderness, felt sorry for himself, was touched by an angel and then went off to hide in the mountains.
Here God looked for him but there was a cacophony of noise – whirlwind, earthquake fire after which the stillness, the silence through which Elijah heard the voice of God speaking to him.
This was, in a similar way, the experience of the Desert Fathers and Mothers and it is their teaching that can help us to go beyond words in our praying.
An experience I had during a stay at a convent in Oxford is a kind of illustration of this.
I was in my room reading some of the sayings of the Desert Fathers and I read of three men who used to visit St. Antony of Egypt.
They came every year, and two of them used to bombard Antony with spiritual questions. The other, younger man, simply sat in silence.
This went on for a number of years until, eventually, Antony said to the younger man, “How is it that you come with these two every year and they ask me lots of questions but you never ask anything?”
The young man replied, simply, “It is enough for me to see you Father.”
Soon after reading this, I went to the chapel to join the nuns for Compline, the Night prayer of the Church. I was a little early and the place was in complete darkness – I could just make out the dark shape of several nuns kneeling in prayer.
There was just one light – almost a pinprick – the lamp burning in front of the Blessed Sacrament. And as I sat looking at the light the thought kept recurring: “It is enough for me to see you, Father.”
I would like this to be my focus for the year ahead, and maybe yours too – that we must grow in the kind of prayer which is about looking at God and being still, just letting his gaze of love fall on us.
There are too many strident and demonic voices at looses in our world today. Too much talking and acting as if people not God, nor the rest of His beautiful creation matter.
If we listen to God and to each other with generosity and kindness we will slowly change our world and each other. We should place ourselves often in God’s presence so that he can really see us and we Him. .He has things to show us and, as the young man who visited St Antony recognized, ‘it is enough’. .
Let us enter into the cell which is our hearts,
where God dwells within.
Be still and know that He is God
Enter into the chamber of your heart.
There is the kingdom of God,
in the utter stillness within.
From that depth comes human joy;
human love; human activity.
Relax into the assurance of His love, His care;
He has provided for every moment.
Be still and know that He is God.
Simon Tugwell. O.P.