Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Ploughman

There are times when prayer is as exciting as a ploughman plodding across a field that has been ploughed many times before. The ploughman reflects a simple reality; no ploughing, no sowing of seed; no sowing of seed, no harvest of the abundant fruits of the field. Ploughing is hard necessary work, and so is prayer. Most prayer is ploughing, turning up the subsoil of our reality so that the creative and regenerative power of the Word can be sown in the varied fields of the world around us. Hard rocky soil needs hard ploughing to receive the Seed.

The foundation of prayer is relationship; our relationship with our Lord; the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Prayer is an ongoing relationship with the Father who delights to hear our prayer, with the Son Who intercedes for us, and with the Holy Spirit who is the very energy that carries our prayer to the heart of the Father. Prayer is only secondarily an emotional experience. On the first level prayer is a responsibility, an act of obedience, a duty that we perform in the company of the Holy Spirit. In going to prayer one might even say, “I am going to do my duty and pray with the help of the Holy Spirit. Prayer is something that the Holy Spirit and I do together.” Like ploughing, prayer is hard work, but not work that we have to do alone.

Obedience, duty, and honour are related concepts that are not popular among modern Western Christians; but these antique virtues are the bedrock of prayer. Prayer does not need to be exciting, or emotionally rewarding; it is just something we are supposed to do. While Benedictines balance Ora et Labora, prayer and work, a simple truth is that often prayer is simply work. This is why St. Benedict says, “Our prayers, therefore, ought to be short and pure, except it be perchance prolonged by the inspiration of Divine Grace: (RB Ch. XX).

Christians live their lives pointed towards the coming of Christ and the full realization of the Kingdom of God when “Death is swallowed up in victory” (I Cor. 15:54b). While we wait, usually plodding along the furrows of our spiritual lives, we would do well to remember St. Paul’s exhortation, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labour is not in vain” (I Cor. 15:58). The command is, “be steadfast, be immovable.” Paul is not here talking about flashy Christian experience. The Greek word for “steadfast” means “sitting, sedentary, firm, immovable.” The Greek word for “immovable” means “not to be moved, firmly persistent.”

That exhortation sets the tone for our spiritual lives, and particularly for prayer. We are to do our duty; to honour God with our obedient response to His call to pray. Such prayer rests on the bedrock of our relationship with Him. We are loved, and we love in return. Out of that love we take up the concerns of the Holy Spirit as He moves us to pray for ourselves and others. I do not mean to imply that there are no joys, no moments of high elevation, even exuberance in prayer. Of course there are! It is just that the plain bread and butter of prayer is faithful obedient plodding up and down the fields of God; ploughing with the Holy Spirit, God’s Ploughman at our side.