The product of prayer is fidelity to prayer. Our personal growth is not the main concern, because our growth cannot be the reason to pray. If it were, self-improvement would matter more than faith, but down that road we’ll only fall back on our own resources and despair. We will get caught in the mirrors of self-reflection and lose sight of the real goal, which is to lose ourselves in the outpouring of the Heavenly Father’s love. Hence, all self-improvement must seem to us incidental to an increase in faith. Our concern should not be where we’re at but how faithful we are to listening to God and answering His call. And if we cannot hear, let us do our duty that is clear while opening our ears wide to His silence.
We should desire, not “progress in spiritual life,” but a steadily growing dialogue in which we forget ourselves and any claim as a partner. We should hope to be absorbed into the dialogue itself, such that the created consequences, important as they are, remain secondary to our soul’s deepening link with God. For when our earthly time is up, we will live forever by the link we let Him cultivate in us by our prayer, not by anything we have accomplished or not on earth (Mt 6:20). All will be satisfied in heaven, for He will fill each according to their capacity to receive¹, which indeed brings comfort. But who would not, upon hearing this, wish to let their ‘soul-capaciousness’ expand to the maximal extent, so that when eternity comes we can commune with our Lord and Maker as intimately and completely as possible?
Again and again, we will see that the earthly results of our opening to God are really by-products of a coming flowering in eternity. The life of faith fills up a richness in the bud, but this growth is miraculously hidden from the eyes of the world and that includes from our own eyes. We cannot judge the treasures of trust by created realities when the fruit of trust is an immortal bloom. Where trust flows back upon the earth to enrich it, we can be sure that what we are witnessing is the earth moving heavenward, absorbed in the will of God and becoming a praise of His glory.
Paradoxically, then, the best way to care for the earth and our earthly selves is to trust in the realities of the Unseen. The Kingdom comes to the degree that the link of charity between heaven and earth is welcomed down. Creation is perfected as it is ‘blacked out’ and all its own lights extinguished, so that the Light of the Lamb is the sole suffusing light², giving it the one brightness which, in consuming it, perfects its life in His image. This is the Cross understood as symbol and source of Creation: right where Christ’s earthly life is ‘blacked out’ and enters the darkness of abandonment by God, He shows us the absolute power of faith as what opens Creation in death to the absolute power of love. Only that love can “finish” (Jn 19:30) the work of Creation. In exploding open the tomb and all created loss, He reveals the Risen Lord as the secret telos of all growth and loss: a new heaven and a new earth, the restoration of things so God is all in all, the resurrection to eternal life.
Perfect prayer is thus a crucifixion with Christ. It imitates the ‘black out’ of His surrender into the Father’s hands, when He entrusts everything fallen and dying to God’s power to raise it. Because of Jesus, then, we know for certain that the most fecund place to be in all of creation is on the martyr’s cross, our blood mingled with His. There all earthly-minded concerns are sacrificed defenselessly so that the very earth–from the pit of its inertia and decay, its rejection and rebellion against God–can be opened to the blinding light of heaven, which will save, perfect, and complete it in the most effective, because holy, way.
In imitation of Christ commending His Spirit to the Father on the Cross, we are called to restore, through faith, the fate of Creation back into the hands of the Creator. The most excellent and direct way of doing this is to put, through unceasing prayer, our personal fate into His hands–indeed so much so that we behold ourselves as it were in darkness; as of no account (Is 53:3); as playthings of the Divine whose only animation comes by His manipulation; as creatures “buried in the abyss of [their own] nothingness”³ and so fully available to His eternal-animation of us; as beings through whom He beholds His own glory and lives His own life through our free dedication to His love. Do we not then disappear entirely into the will of His holiness?
It is precisely for this that we prepare in our prayer. We mortify in us whatever stands in the way of our being crucified with Christ (Gal 5:24). We grow in confidence in the goodness and power of the God who raised Him from the dead. We consent to no longer know our course and fate (1 Cor 2:2), save to know we are safely held in God and, if we only assent, included in His saving work on earth. That earth is guided by us well to the extent we are guided by heaven. For heaven is the communion of love in trust, and that is what saves and embraces all. Like Abraham, it is in courting a darkness of knowledge and risking immolating the very reality and symbol of created happiness, Isaac, that faith traverses the abyss it is impossible to traverse without God and so fulfills its purpose, for it is right at that moment that God speaks and the Spirit renews the face of the earth.
This is what Paul means in saying that we no longer reckon according to the flesh (2 Cor 5:16). Unceasing prayer is the laboratory and practice ground for this total renovation of our vision. It is to think of what is above, not of earth (Col 3:2), so that what is earthly can be safeguarded by heaven’s intention, which consumes it in light and means: transfiguration.
April 17-18, 2023
¹ St John of the Cross, Ascent of Mt Carmel.
² St Elizabeth of the Trinity, Last Retreat.
³ St Margaret Mary Alacoque, Autobiography.