The arc of prayer

In the epic novel The Lord of the Rings, the elves of Lothlorien admit that they are losing their forest lands. But they battle on. They describe their struggle as “fighting the long defeat.” This is the source of the comment made by Paul Farmer, who fought a “losing battle” for health care for the poor. Farmer was a physician and medical anthropologist who co-founded “Partners in Health”, an NGO committed to the idea that good public health and medicine was possible to poor areas of the world. In Tracy Kidder’s biography of Farmer (Mountains Beyond Mountains) Farmer says, “I have fought the long defeat and brought other people on to fight the long defeat, and I’m not going to stop because we keep losing… I actually think sometimes we may win… So, you fight the long defeat.” His life and work reminds me of the persistent widow. Continue reading

St Augustine on Prayer

Just a quick note with a link to a very long read on the topic of prayer: St. Augustine’s Letter 130, “To Proba, a Devoted Handmaid of God.” It is at least a 30 minute read, robust in its treatment of prayer and filled with Scriptural references. You can find the letter online here.

The letter begins as such:

Recollecting your request and my promise, that as soon as time and opportunity should be given by Him to whom we pray, I would write you something on the subject of prayer to God, I feel it my duty now to discharge this debt, and in the love of Christ to minister to the satisfaction of your pious desire. I cannot express in words how greatly I rejoiced because of the request, in which I perceived how great is your solicitude about this supremely important matter.

I think it will take a little “stick-to-it-ness” to follow Augustine’s thought and to absorb all that he offers on the topic of prayer. I also think it will be impossible not to walk away with some “seeds” that will give you fruit for reflection.

Prayer: a context

This coming Sunday is the 17th Sunday in Lectionary Cycle C. With the geographical note, “in a certain place” Luke has separated this narrative from the immediate context of Chapter 10 (the conclusion of the mission of the 72, the parable of the Good Samaritan, and the encounter with Martha and Mary). Luke now presents three episodes concerned with prayer:

  • the first (Luke 11:1–4) recounts Jesus teaching his disciples the Christian communal prayer, 
  • the “Our Father”; the second (Luke 11:5–8), the importance of persistence in prayer; and
  • the third (Luke 11:9–13), the effectiveness of prayer. 

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Being people of prayer

In the epic novel The Lord of the Rings, the elves of Lothlorien admit that they are losing their forest lands. But they battle on. The describe their struggle as “fighting the long defeat.” This is source of the comment made by Paul Farmer, who recently passed away. Farmer fought a “losing battle” for health care for the poor. In Tracy Kidder’s biography of Farmer called Mountains Beyond Mountains, Farmer says, “I have fought the long defeat and brought other people on to fight the long defeat, and I’m not going to stop because we keep losing… I actually think sometimes we may win… So, you fight the long defeat.” Continue reading

Checking In

Even in these times, when like Punxsutawney Phil the groundhog, we emerge from our pandemic shells, if you are attentive, you begin to notice the tidal changes in daily life. As you adjust to the new normal, now is a good time to consider things. Maybe some of the basics. For example, what am I grateful for in my life? And then consider if you have given any demonstrable witness to that gratitude. Maybe, “I am grateful for my family” is on the list, but have you expressed it to them? Continue reading

Just passing through

There was a young friar who sought to live simply and a contemplative life. His Guardian gave him permission to live in his own lean-to down by the river.  For the first week the friar was ecstatic – his prayer life blossomed and he really felt he had taken a major step on his journey to God. At the end of the week, the young friar washed his one habit and put it out to dry.  The next morning he was dismayed to find that some rats had torn his habit to shreds.  So he covered himself as best he could, went to a nearby village and begged for another.  A week later, after washing, the rats destroyed that habit as well.  So, the young friar got a cat – and presto – rat problem solved. Continue reading

Prayer and memory

sermon-on-the-mountJesus said to his disciples: “In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Mark 6:7-8) This is the verse that comes just before the Markan version of the Lord’s Prayer/Our Father. Depending o the translation one is viewing you will read references to “babbling” in prayer, vain repetitions, empty phrases, needless words – all referring to the pattern of prayer used by the pagans of Jesus’ time. Continue reading

Francis of Assisi and Prayer

When people think of St. Francis of Assisi and prayer, what most likely comes to mind is “The Peace Prayer of St. Francis,” with the memorable line: “Make me an instrument of peace…” It is a moving and noteworthy prayer, certainly in the Franciscan tradition, perhaps inspired by St. Francis, but it dates to 1912 and was first published as a poem in the French spiritual magazine, La Clochette. Later, during World War I, it appeared on the back of a holy card bearing an image of St. Francis and the association of the two became cemented in our minds. Continue reading

Who prays for you?

saint-paulIn the Confieitor, we hold up the things we have done and what we have failed to do. The first reading for today’s Mass is certainly a list of what St. Paul has done for the sake of the Gospel. He has traveled, worked, suffered, been prosecuted, imprisoned, witnessed, held nothing back, did not back down, and took every opportunity to proclaim the Good News. I have no doubt, if asked, that St. Paul  could have easily listed what, in his mind, he had failed to do. Continue reading

Jonah: prayer

When last seen Jonah had just hit bottom, swallowed alive. Up to this point, despite lots of opportunities, Jonah had not prayed, even when commanded by the ship’s captain in the midst of the raging tempest at sea – even as all the crew around him offered prayers to a pantheon of gods. But now it is different. He is alone, his choices and their consequences have “consumed” him, and … and what?

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