Whoever put the odd idea into our heads that something has to happen when we pray? Right from childhood, we start off on the wrong track when well-meaning adults regularly ask us, “Have you finished your prayers?” As though prayer was something to “do.” Other verbs convey a certain image or ideal we have of prayer, such as “feeling,” hearing,” “understanding things.” But in reality, those things are rarely experienced.”
Prayer can often feel arid, or in any case not always live up to our expectations. We feel let down. That’s when we are tempted to blame God because, if God really loved us, God would answer our prayers. Or we blame ourselves because, if we really loved God, we ought to be able to get through to Him. If the connection is poor on one end of the line or the other, doesn’t it make more sense just to hang up? So too often, after several attempts, we give up on prayer.
Great spiritual writers suggest that the correct verb to use in speaking of prayer is “to be.” To pray is to be - to be with. That’s what prayer is all about. St. Augustine understood this well when, with sadness he asked: “My God, you who are everywhere, how is it that I find you nowhere?”
The problem is not the absence of Christ or His distance from human history. As St. John Paul II said, “There is one problem only that exists always and everywhere: the problem of our being present to Christ.” What is the point of insisting on the real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist as well as in the other Sacraments, in God’s Church, in fraternal love, in the service of the poor, if we ourselves are not also present?
When Jesus sent His Apostles out bearing the Good News to all nations, He emphatically stated: “I am with you always, to the end of the ages!” (Mt. 20:28) But “to be with” takes at least two. This is the very heart of faith as an experience, a living faith: to be with Jesus, with Jesus who wished to be with us.
The Saints teach us that the quality of our prayer is not measured by the number of lovely thoughts or wonderful sensations we derive from it. But by the fact that, in this world we live in, in the moment of our life in which we find ourselves, we dare to open ourselves up to being with God. The Bible calls it “face to face.” Some spiritual writers call it “heart to heart.” It is essential that God find us waiting!