Abbot Philip: The Habit of Prayer

In April, our brothers at Christ in the Desert Monastery released a new disc of music titled “Blessings, Peace and Harmony: Monks of the Desert.”  I urge you to practice mutual aid by purchasing this music. You will receive much more than you give!

Abbot Philip writes this week about developing the habit of prayer:

“Within the community we have all of the challenges of any group of people living together.  The relationships are supposed to be formed by the following of Christ and that is not always easy.  Each brother has to dedicate himself each day to living the Gospel, not just talking about it.

Although I have been a monk almost 48 years already, I still have days when it is an incredible challenge to live by the Gospel and not just settle for a basic human response.  If I were totally converted, of course, my basic human response would be the Gospel.  Always I remind myself:  the struggle goes on to the very end of life. One of the necessary virtues for a spiritual life is perseverance.  We have to keep trying to be faithful each day.  We have to pray every day and as much as we can, even when it does not feel good or even seems awful.

Whether we are married, single or consecrated celibates, we are all called to follow Jesus Christ and to try to be faithful to that call every day.  What does perseverance mean in a normal life?  For me, if I have any normal life, it means that I must take time each day to be quiet in prayer for a significant amount of time, not just a minute here and there, but 15 minutes here and there, a half hour here and there, even an hour here and there. Our Rule of Benedict sort of presumes that the monk will spend several hours a day in holy reading and in prayer.

It is much easier to talk about prayer than to actually pray.  It is much easier for me to write this letter than to take the time to pray. Why?  Because real prayer is just taking time to be with God without any expectations, without hoping for some religious feeling, without anything except the commitment to be with HIM for a period of time.  There is no emotional feedback to speak of and that is why other things are easier to do:  they at least help me feel like I have done something.Lots of the time I would prefer to take a nap rather than to pray.  If I am really tired, I should take a nap!

On the other hand, I realize that without a commitment to prayer every day, to a significant time of prayer every day, I am just speaking about God and not giving myself to God. Commitment is not talking, it is doing.  No matter how tired I am, I take the time to pray.  No matter how boring the time of prayer is, I stay there, seeking to be quietly in the presence of the Lord.  No matter if I must fight thousands of distractions, I keep letting the distractions go so that I am simply there with the Lord.  Even when pray might seem repulsive to me, I stay with it.

Do I do that every day?  No, I am not yet that good.  Do I try it every day?  Mostly but I am not entirely faithful even yet. My personal life has changed so much over the years because of my commitment to trying to pray.  Without reservations I recommend to any and to all:  pray every day!  Pray as much as you can every day.  Make a commitment to praying, to sitting quietly with God, each day.”–Abbot Philip

Read more from Abbot Philip at The Abbot’s Notebook.

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