“Spirituality is about living with reality and always living in the connection with God. Spirituality is not exactly about praying, especially not about reciting prayers. It is about maintaining a living relationship with God at all times. It surely includes praying and includes reciting prayers. As a monk, I am always reciting prayers. The challenge is not just to recite them, but to pray them. Here in the monastery we have classes on the Psalms, for instance, and we can learn a lot about Psalms and about other Scriptures and even about hymns and prayers. The challenge is always to pray the Psalms, pray the Scriptures, and pray all the hymns and prayers.
Central to this challenge is to come to known my own heart and to be able to focus my heart on the presence of God. If I can manage that, then I can also begin to add to that the knowledge of what I am saying if I am involved in spoken prayer or spoken community prayer. The basic element, however, is always to have my heart set on the Lord, seeking His face. Most of us are able to be still and to pray, as long as that is all that we have to do and as long as nothing else very important is on our minds. The challenge is to keep that basic focus of our souls in the Lord when we have to pray with others, when we must live with others, when we have challenges, when we meet conflict, when we meet complex life situations. Only practice allows us to maintain this inner life of prayer at all times.
Even the early monks and nuns recognized that it is easy to fool ourselves and to think that we have mastered this capacity to focus our lives on God as long as we have no challenges to that focus. Thus if I am totally alone and in silence and seek to focus my being on the Lord, it is generally not too difficult to do that. It is as if all temptations to anything else are now lacking and so I find focusing the energy of my soul on the Lord fairly easy. The challenge comes when the temptations and distractions appear—as they do to all of us in normal life.
Once I have to leave the silence of my monastic cell and interact with others, the challenges begin. It is the same for anyone outside of the monastery. If there is relative peace and quiet, it is not too difficult to focus the energy of one’s soul on the Lord. But if there are children shouting and screaming and fighting, the challenge is different. If I have just had some kind of conflict with another person, the inner peace of my soul is not easy to reclaim. If I have to deal with a group of people who have no interest in a life of prayer, that is another challenge.
For the early monks and nuns, the perfection of the Christian life was in being able to maintain that inner tie with the Lord in any and every circumstance, no matter how difficult. It was not something that the monk or nun presumed was possible without a lot of struggle. Always that struggle could be resumed whenever the monk or nun realized that the inner focus had been lost. For most of us, this is a lifetime challenge. We may have periods of time when we find ourselves fairly well focused, even in difficult and trying circumstances. There may be other periods of time when we find the inner focus difficult or even impossible—and even at times when there are no distractions from outside of us. My sisters and brothers, we seek the Lord. That is what spiritual life is about. We will continue this search until we die. Let us never give up!”–Abbot Philip, OSB
Read Abbot Philip’s whole essay.