When I felt the call to monastic life, I wanted prayer to be a priority in my life. I loved to pray, but I don’t think I understood it very well when I was younger. Edith Stein, known to Catholics as St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, was a Jewish convert to Christianity who became a Carmelite nun. She was arrested and killed by the Nazis in 1942. St. Teresa Benedicta wrote frequently on the topic of the spiritual life, teaching that “prayer is the highest achievement of which the human spirit is capable.” I truly believe that … at least I do now that I understand better what prayer is and what it’s for.
I used to struggle with the efficacy of prayer. I mean, does it really make a difference that I pray for people, or even myself, when God already knows more about me, my problems, and my neighbor’s problems, than I ever will? Our productivity-obsessed society has formed us to think of achievement in terms of personal accomplishments -things we do to better ourselves, our circumstances, our institutions and even our world. Consequently, I had a difficult time seeing prayer as having the power to make a difference or to change anything, which, of course, it does.
When I pray to God, laying before “the Lord God of all things” (RB 20.2) my concerns, worries, and needs, it’s not like I’m informing God of anything. God knows already what our needs truly are better than we do ourselves. But when I pray, I connect with the presence of God as the power of Love itself, and out of love for self and others, I voice my cares and concerns to God and, “with utmost humility and sincere devotion” (faith), entrust them to God’s mercy and love.
This can be done with words, of course, but as St. Benedict teaches in chapter 20 of his Rule, it is even better to use a means of communication that is simple and pure. The Trappist monk Thomas Merton taught that God communicates primarily by means of communion – pure presence – rather than human words.
God’s Word is God’s Presence, being with us and among us. To pray is to connect with that interior Reality in a deep and silent way, from a heart that knows itself in need of God’s mercy and love. Simply being mindful of God’s indwelling presence and being in that presence at prayer is all we need do to connect with the Power of Prayer, who is God. We carry that Reality with us everywhere we go, so prayer becomes a means of connecting with God at any time, in whatever circumstances.
St. Benedict writes that prayer should be short and pure, voiced with utmost humility and tears of compunction, “not our many words.” Imagine yourself in God’s presence, a child of God in need of God’s mercy, desiring God’s assistance for yourself and others, motivated by charity. Prayer completes the circuit of Love – this is its power and efficacy. Hence, love is what prayer is about, and when any one of us prays we increase the amount of Love in our world, the creative Power that makes all things new! For the Christian, Love is the measure of all human achievement.