Prayer, a relationship
Words of Spirituality
by ENZO BIANCHI
Prayer leads us to de-center ourselves from our own "I" so that our life can become more and more the life of Christ in us
And the God of biblical revelation is the living God we do not reach through our own reasoning, but who reveals, in the loving freedom of his actions, that he himself is in search of us. Far from being the fruit of a natural human sense of self-transcendence or the expression of an innate religious instinct, Christian prayer, which challenges every form of anthropocentric self-sufficiency, is our human response to God's free decision to enter into a relationship with us. It is God who, according to every page of the Bible, searches for, questions and calls the human being, who is led from listening to faith and responds, in faith, by giving thanks (blessing, praise, etc.) and by expressing a request (invocation, supplication, intercession, etc.) - in other words, through prayer summarized in its two fundamental forms. Prayer is oratio fidei (James 5:15), the eloquence of faith, an expression of personal attachment to the Lord. Biblical revelation also attests that there is another dimension of prayer, the human search for God. Our search is the space we make available so that in it God can reveal himself to us, freely and according to his own initiative; it is our openness to meeting an other, essential if there is to be communion; it is our affirmation that God is indeed Other than us; and it is a sign of the fact that we cannot possess God, even when we know him. Searching is a fundamental aspect of the dialogue of love, the dialogical relationship that is central in prayer.
If Christian prayer is a response to the God who has spoken to us first, it is also an invocation and search for the God who hides, who remains silent, who conceals his presence. The amorous dialogue in the Song of Songs, the game of concealment and disclosure, desire and pursuit between lover and beloved can also be applied to prayer. We see this in the Psalms: "O God...for you I long!...for you my soul thirsts...I think of you...through the night watches...My soul clings fast to you; your right hand upholds me" (Psalm 63). The dialogue of love in the Song of Songs is the fundamental reality toward which Scripture seeks to lead us in our relationship with God. This understanding of prayer as a relationship is perhaps what best expresses the proprium of Christian prayer, which introduces us into the covenant established by God with humanity and becomes a way of living within that covenant. Having made these initial observations, we can say that just as life is adaptation to an environment, prayer, which is spiritual life in action, is our adaptation to our 'ultimate' living environment, the reality of God in which everything and everyone is contained. Our essential point of departure in Christian prayer is the acceptance and confession of our weakness. We find such an attitude in the tax collector in the Lucan parable (18:9-14), who presents himself to God in prayer as he really is, without lies, masks, hypocrisy or attempts at self-idealization, and who accepts what God thinks of him and how God sees him as the truth of who he is. Only those capable of a realistic attitude, an attitude of poverty and humility, can remain before God and allow themselves to be known as they really are.
What is truly important, moreover, is the fact that we are known by God, because we know ourselves only partially (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:12; Galatians 4,9). Our point of departure in prayer, then, is a confession of our inability to pray: "We do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words" (Romans 8:26). This confession creates in us the openness that will allow us to welcome God's life within us. Prayer leads us to de-center ourselves from our own "I" so that our life can become more and more the life of Christ in us, and so that we can live as the Spirit guides us, as children of the Father. This de-centering has nothing to do with the attempt to 'make a void in oneself’ that mimics spiritual practices belonging to other cultural and religious traditions. It is a de-centering whose goal is agape, love. This goal of love, of leaving ourselves in order to meet the living person of Jesus Christ and come to love others "as he loved us," sets Christian prayer apart from forms of meditation and techniques of asceticism and concentration found in Asian religions. It is this understanding of prayer as a relationship, a relationship that reflects the life of the Trinity and that embraces both God and other people, that is the distinguishing feature of Christian prayer.