For those reading this blog, you get a preemptive look into one of the articles coming up in the next issue of Franciscan Angles, the newsletter of the Society of St Francis. I have been thinking a lot lately about the nature of prayer; what it is and is not. A lot of this interest has been sparked by a series of prayer schools I have been facilitating around the country of late. The key theme from these prayer schools has been exploring the concept of prayer incarnate or becoming prayer or more correctly, becoming that which you pray. This in part has also been sparked by my growing frustration with prayers I hear in church which are ‘form’ prayers (generic all purpose) or ‘magical incantation’ prayers (which ask God to meet our shopping list of wants and desires). Both of these which seem to leave us believing we have done our bit, and we are absolved of doing anything else.

As I thought more about this I began to see two aspects of prayer; contemplative and active, both of which are intrinsically related to one another, nourishing and nurturing the other. In contemplative prayer we seek to enter into communion with God, in active prayer we seek to enter into communion with one another, and all creation.

Contemplative prayer brings us into contact with the Divine Grace of God which is expressed as unconditional love for the created order; penultimately exemplified in the perfect expression of community in the relationship of the Trinity. Where each is equal with, and concerned for the other, each going out from the other, but for the other, and returning to the other. As we experience deep moments of contemplative prayer we literally sit in the presence of God and experience this Divine Grace. We are challenged to embody that Grace within ourselves. To become beings of unconditional love and perfect community. Methods of contemplative prayer then become the process which allows us to enter in this Divine space and challenge us to become instruments of God’s Grace on earth.

Active prayer then brings us into contact with the created order; humanity the flora and fauna. It is here that we are then challenged, having experienced being in the presence of the Divine, to become expressions of the Divine in our daily interactions with the created order. It is here that we must become that which we pray. In other words, if our prayer is fundamentally about becoming the embodied presence of Divine Grace, then becoming prayer means becoming the instruments of God’s Grace on earth. Thus we must become an expression of perfect community and unconditional love to all around us. This is an active practice of prayer which cannot simply be resolved by limiting our understanding and practice of prayer to ‘form’ and ‘incantation’ prayers. We must move beyond these infantile understandings of prayer and move toward a sense of prayer which brings us into direct communion with one another, and thereby into full communion with God.

Our prayer then is a journey from contemplative to active. But it is not linear, rather circular. That is, in the contemplative prayer space we experience some of what it means to be instruments of God’s Grace, we take this with us into the world; in the practice of active prayer. The experiences we have of becoming prayer then open our awareness and understanding of the Divine Grace further and we take that new awareness with us back into our time of contemplative prayer; and the cycle continues, with each circular motion giving us greater insight and ability to enter into communion with both the Divine and the created order. Ultimately the circle begins to lessen its arc until we find that there is no gap between contemplative and active prayer; and indeed we begin to pray without ceasing. Or as St Anthony the Great said where we are no longer aware that we are praying.

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