|"Woman in Prayer" by Paul Gauguin|
Today is the National Day of Prayer. In 1988 President Reagan signed a bill into law making the first Thursday in May a day for the nation to focus on prayer, whatever their creed. It's a good idea, but honestly I don't think many people know about it. I didn't know about it until yesterday when I was looking up some information on the internet. I do find it interesting though that I was planning on publishing this post on prayer today, May 5th, and even more surprizing is that yesterday in Rome, Pope Benedict announced that his weekly audience talks will focus on prayer. Coincidence? Hmmm.
What prompted me to write on prayer was that the other day I came across a quote by Thomas Merton that truly touched me. He wrote, "All true prayer somehow confesses our absolute dependence on God. It is therefore a deep and vital contact with Him...It is when we pray that we really are." That is a very powerful statement, but can be a confusing one. Yes, prayer does express our dependence upon God, because often we are asking for something, something we cannot achieve on our own, or for a need that we have. Our prayers of thanksgiving recognize that God has graced us in some way and we are expressing our gratitude, which is also acknowledging that we are dependent upon Him. But what about the rest of that quote.
True prayer, in the sense that Merton conveys, I believe goes beyond asking and thanksgiving. What is the purpose of prayer? I have often been reminded that the ultimate purpose of prayer is communion with God. Pope Benedict stated in his audience yesterday that "expressed in every prayer...is the truth of the human creature, which on the one hand experiences weakness and indigence, and because of this asks help from heaven, and on the other is gifted with extraordinary dignity, as, preparing himself to receive divine Revelation, he discovers himself capable of entering communion with God." It is because of God's gift of faith that we can even approach God in prayer. God wants us to come to Him. He calls to us.
True prayer goes into the realm of simply being in the presence of the Almighty, realizing that He is the fulfillment of all our desires. It is what is called "mystical union." Many of the great mystics, like John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila, have written of this union. It is in this communion with God that we become what we are, what we were created to be by God. Eastern Christians call this theosis or divinization, a sharing in the life of the Trinity. St Athanasius, whose feast day we celebrated Monday, explained theosis as "becoming by grace what God is by nature." Sort of makes you want to pray, doesn't it?