Chapter Fifteen: ON PRAYER
IT follows from this that prayer is your first and incomparably most important means of fighting. Learn to pray, and you vanquish all the evil powers that could imaginably assail you.
Prayer is one wing, faith the other, that lifts us heavenward. With only one wing no one can fly: prayer without faith is as meaningless as faith without prayer. But if your faith is very weak, you can profitably cry: Lord, give me faith! Such a prayer seldom goes unheard. The grain of mustard seed, says the Lord, grows into a great tree.
The person who wants sunshine and air opens the window. It would be folly to sit behind drawn curtains and say: There is no light; there isn’t a breath of air! Let this picture show you clearly how prayer works. God’s power, or grace, is always and everywhere accessible to all, but one cannot get one’s share of it without wanting it and acting accordingly.
Prayer is action; to pray is to be highly effective. For every kind of effectiveness needs practice. It is by speaking a foreign language that one learns it, and by praying one learns to pray. Without prayer you can never expect to find what you are seeking. Prayer is the beginning and the basis of all striving towards God. The first gleam of light is lit by prayer; prayer gives the first hints of what you are seeking, and it awakens and sustains the desire to go further.
Prayer is the foundation of the world, St. John Climacus has said, and another saint has likened the universe to a bowl in which the Church of Christ rests, but the Church is held together by prayer. Prayer is humanity’s intercourse and encounter with God. It is the bridge on which man crosses over from his carnal self with its temptations, to the spiritual, with its freedom. It is a wall of defence against troubles, a weapon against doubt; it annihilates affliction and bridles anger. Prayer is food for the soul and light for the mind, it bears in the present the joy that is to come. For him who truly prays, prayer is the verdict, the tribunal, and the judge’s throne, not waiting for the Last judgment, but now, in the next moment, in the heart.
Prayer and watchfulness are one and the same, for it is with prayer that you stand at the gate of your heart.
The watchful eye reacts immediately to the slightest shifting in the field of vision; so also does the heart that is steadfast in prayer.
The spider may be another example for you. In the middle of his web he sits and feels the smallest fly and kills it. Likewise prayer watches in the middle of your heart: as soon as a trembling makes it known that an enemy is there, prayer kills it.
To leave off praying is the same thing as deserting one’s post. The gate stands open for the ravaging hordes, and the treasures one has gathered are plundered. The plunderer does not need long to accomplish his work: anger, for example, can destroy everything in a single second.
Chapter Fifteen: ON PRAYER