How Alive am I Willing to Be?


Why bother spending time in prayer?

Very few people would be so bold as to ask themselves this sort of question, let alone ask another person. The truth is that there resides deep within all of us the inherent belief, or at least the desire to believe, that there is something real, perhaps even eternal, in this mysterious act we call prayer.

“But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.’” (1 Corinthians 2:9)

Most of us would not take the time to think much about this issue of the value of prayer. We are perfectly comfortable with the knowledge we have gained, either through reading, listening to sermons or by actively praying ourselves, and we accept that there is something very beneficial in this daily devotion.

And so, we dutifully make time each day, and commit ourselves through an act of faith, and we pray. Indeed, an act of faith is always required when we engage in any act where the benefit is beyond the ability of our senses to confirm—namely, the belief that prayer can change our current reality.

But for those who are willing to go a little deeper in understanding prayer, whether driven by curiosity, desire or even frustration, we will discover that what prayer does for us, above everything else, is to awaken us to the consciousness of what is eternally real in our world; it awakens us to what it is that actually gives life.

To paraphrase the writer Anne Lamott, This business of becoming conscious, of becoming a person of prayer, is ultimately about asking ourselves, “How alive am I willing to be?”

With this insight, it may be easier to understand why so many people hesitate, or perhaps simply never take, the time to pray. Prayer is actually one of the riskiest and most revealing acts in which a person can participate. Prayer has a way of getting to the heart of what resides deep within each of us, both the good and the bad, and that may be uncomfortable.

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

Prayer, after all, is not primarily directed toward temporal matters, but rather to eternal realities. In addition, prayer’s primary objective is not just about changing worldly circumstances, though it certainly can do that, but instead, the act of prayer is ultimately about changing the very persons who have the courage to participate in it.

As C.S. Lewis wrote; “I pray because I can’t help myself.  I pray because I am helpless.  I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. I do not pray to change God, I pray to change myself.”

What Lewis understood so well is that prayer is actually our Primary Language; it is our first and best form of communication. But, unfortunately, we have too often confused this primary language with the language offered to us by the world. The world’s language is the one we begin to speak after we have acquired some ability with the gifts of thought and speech. This is the language that often tells us to put the things of this world in the primary place in our lives. But growing and maturing in our prayer life means moving beyond this worldly language.

We have all known the experience of the child who can’t seem to stop talking. The child may have acquired enough of the gift of language to be able to engage their parent, or some older person in their life, in an endless barrage of questions, observations, opinions and, yes, requests. This can reach the point where the older person becomes overwhelmed with all the communication.

But the child is simply seeking to make meaning with the use of his or her newly acquired skill of language. The child will string together an endless series of words, construct thoughts into sentences, and seek to form ideas that will begin to help him or her understand the world.  In short, the child is seeking meaning, seeking to be alive. It can be tiring for the listener.

Pray constantly.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

Thankfully, God never becomes overwhelmed by our communication with Him, indeed, He would prefer we spoke with Him more often.

But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)

Of course, like the adult and the child, God also appreciates that after we have spoken to Him about all our plans, desires and requests, we might take the time to just be silent and listen with our heart to hear what He has to say to us.

Perhaps an analogy would be helpful in understanding this idea.

If you have ever watched a great musician play a piece of music, a piece that the artist is familiar with, you will have a good model for this silent part of prayer. A gifted musician is aware of the notes on the page, and he or she can read the string of notes and time measures together that make up the score, but if you look closely at a truly gifted musician offering a solo performance, more often than not, their eyes are closed as they perform.

This is true because the music does not come from the notes or from the score written on the page, it comes from the performer’s heart. And it is also true that the most gifted musicians are able to hear music in the piece they are playing that the rest of the audience cannot hear. In effect, they hear a silent music.

It is the same with us in prayer; we all have this gift if we are willing to use it. You see, our words in prayer are like the notes, our thoughts are like the musical score, but, ultimately, we must be willing to listen for the gift of silent music. When we allow ourselves to just listen in prayer, our heart will be able to hear this silent music, the music of God’s response.

And if we are willing to listen with our heart in prayer, really listen, then no matter what our words or thoughts may have been to God, we will always hear one consistent theme in His silent response to our heart. ‘You are my child, I love you, be not afraid,’ “all will be well with you” (Jeremiah 38:20)It is this silent echo in our hearts that confirms in us God’s eternal love.

But in order for us to hear this silent music, we must seek God’s answer in prayer. We must take the time to listen with our heart, and we must also stop trying to listen for the language that comes to us from the world, with its confusing emphasis on earthly desires. For we know…

“It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” (John 6:63)

God wants to speak to us in silence and guide us as we seek eternal life.

So, the only question for each of us is…

How Alive am I Willing to Be?


Copyright © 2019 by Mark Danis


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About the Author

Mark Danis

Mark Danis, OCDS, is co-host of the weekly radio program, Carmelite Conversations, which aired internationally for six years on the Radio Maria network. The program focuses on the method and blessings of contemplative prayer practiced in the in our busy day to day lives. Episodes can be streamed at http://www.carmeliteconversations.com.

Mark's primary ministry is providing teaching and spiritual direction in contemplative prayer and removing the obstacles to prayer. He is grounded primarily in the teachings of the Carmelites, most especially St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross.

Mark is a popular speaker and often gives large-group presentations and retreats on Prayer and Carmelite spirituality. He also writes a weekly reflection on prayer for a large nation-wide prayer community, and he leads a weekly prayer group focused on the Teresian Method of Prayer. Mark's most recent appearance was at the 2018 OCDS Congress where he delivered a powerful message to more than 400 Secular Carmelites.

Mark attended St. Michael’s college in Winooski, Vermont, where he received his undergraduate degree in English Literature. He later received a masters degree in theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut.

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