Excerpt from The Making Of An Ordinary Saint

Pray­ing With­out Ceasing

To prac­tice the spir­i­tu­al dis­ci­pline of prayer, I decid­ed to renew my own com­mit­ment to Broth­er Lawrence’s idea of prac­tic­ing the pres­ence of God.” 

Pray­ing with­out ceas­ing is like call­ing a friend on the phone and nev­er hang­ing up. I seek to main­tain an ongo­ing con­ver­sa­tion with God as I go about my day. It reminds me of spend­ing the day with my wife or a close friend; we don’t have to talk to be aware of each other’s pres­ence. I’m amazed at the way Christy and I can com­mu­ni­cate with­out speak­ing, and it seems the same with prayer. I soon find it’s a lit­tle like car­ry­ing with me what I find in soli­tude or wor­ship— stay­ing in a gen­tle pos­ture, attuned to the move­ments of the Spir­it as I go about my day. As the hours wear on, I often for­get about God, and so I humbly begin again with grace and a smile at my limitations. 

The anal­o­gy of ath­let­ic or musi­cal train­ing con­tin­ues to apply. The more I prac­tice, the stronger and more pro­fi­cient I become. Again, prayer is not some­thing to be mas­tered in forty days; forty years seems more applic­a­ble. Actu­al­ly, it’s not some­thing to be mas­tered at all. As Thomas Mer­ton said, We do not want to be begin­ners [at prayer], but let us be con­vinced of the fact that we will nev­er be any­thing but begin­ners, all our life.”

Mus­cle Memory

Mus­cle mem­o­ry is the neu­ro­log­i­cal process that hap­pens with repeat­ed activ­i­ty, much like when some­one learns to ride a bike or a baby learns to walk. The the­o­ry is that we lay new neur­al path­ways each time we per­form a cer­tain move­ment. This is exact­ly how I felt when I start­ed climb­ing moun­tains. It was almost as if the more moun­tains I climbed, the more my body knew how to do it. In a sense each moun­tain was eas­i­er, even if it had been a year since the last one and I wasn’t in the phys­i­cal shape I had been in before. Once I start­ed to climb, my body seemed to remem­ber how to endure the phys­i­cal strain. 

I won­der if this is how the spir­i­tu­al life plays out as well. Through­out the years I have been prac­tic­ing pray­ing with­out ceas­ing, more so at some times than oth­ers, but as I began this project, it came back rather eas­i­ly. Years ago, hold­ing my atten­tion on God for more than a few min­utes seemed near­ly impos­si­ble. These days it flows fair­ly smooth­ly, and while I have plen­ty of room for growth, I can man­age longer stretch­es than before. 

Majes­tic and Mundane

Some­times hold­ing on to God’s pres­ence as I go about my day is exhil­a­rat­ing, lib­er­at­ing, and even fun. I think God likes humor, music, cre­ativ­i­ty, work­ing puz­zles, and build­ing beau­ti­ful things out of mess­es. I feel his plea­sure in teach­ing me about his cre­ation both in peo­ple and nature. He points out details, rhythms, and beau­ty. I’m remind­ed of the lyrics from an old hymn: He walks with me and he talks with me.” I feel he is ever hap­py to teach and show me the world. 

Oth­er times prayer is mun­dane, unevent­ful, and bor­ing. Prob­a­bly the hard­est part about grow­ing in deep­er inti­ma­cy with God is that the feel­ings and sens­es vis­it and fade. Some­times I’m left with an empti­ness like no oth­er. I’m left feel­ing vacant, and ordi­nary life fails to sat­is­fy. I miss God. It’s like vis­it­ing the neigh­bor­hood park after going to Dis­ney­land. I guess I wouldn’t miss him had I not expe­ri­enced him. 

The old writ­ers would say his absence is a grace. It is out of love that he hides. We do well to remem­ber that God’s hid­den­ness can be help­ful in the growth of our souls. God’s absence is as much an act of love as his pres­ence. It is in the lone­ly spaces where faith is forged.

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Fos­ter, Nathan. The Mak­ing of an Ordi­nary Saint: My Jour­ney from Frus­tra­tion to Joy with the Spir­i­tu­al Dis­ci­plines (pp. 144 – 145). Bak­er Pub­lish­ing Group, 2014.

Originally published October 2014