I find myself struggling to pray these days. I’m not quite sure why. Perhaps it’s the transition back to normal with the girls back at school and my husband back at work. Perhaps it’s the quiet and loneliness I sometimes feel during the day. Perhaps it’s just sloth. I never know for sure why, but one thing I do know is that I’ve got to do something about it.
The first chapter of Book One of In Imitation of Christ advises us, “…to imitate His [Christ’s] life and habits, if we wish to be truly enlightened and free from all blindness of heart. Let our chief effort, therefore, be to study the life of Jesus Christ.”
So I thought, “Where better to study the life of Jesus than the gospels?”
Sunday night, after a particularly crabby day, I turned to the gospels for deliverance. Opening to the second chapter of Mark, I gazed on a familiar passage:
The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were accustomed to fast.
People came to Jesus and objected,
“Why do the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees fast,
but your disciples do not fast?”
Jesus answered them,
“Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?
As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast.
But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them,
and then they will fast on that day.
No one sews a piece of unshrunken cloth on an old cloak.
If he does, its fullness pulls away,
the new from the old, and the tear gets worse.
Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins.
Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins,
and both the wine and the skins are ruined.
Rather, new wine is poured into fresh wineskins.”
Hmmmm… now I don’t know about you, but this just really didn’t do anything for me. I can’t relate to the topic, nor did I glean any “Aha!” info. It left me questioning, “What was I supposed to get out of that, Lord? Whatever it was, I think I missed it!”
At Mass the next morning proclaiming the gospel, the priest read that exact passage. Naturally, my interest piqued, and close attention rapt me. The priest gave a short homily on the reading. Unfortunately, it did nothing to assuage my desire for understanding. Oh, well.
In continuing my reading of Imitation later in the day, I came to chapter 5, which helped to put things into place:
The Fifth ChapterREADING THE HOLY SCRIPTURE
TRUTH, not eloquence, is to be sought in reading the Holy Scriptures; and every part must be read in the spirit in which it was written. For in the Scriptures we ought to seek profit rather than polished diction.
Likewise we ought to read simple and devout books as willingly as learned and profound ones. We ought not to be swayed by the authority of the writer, whether he be a great literary light or an insignificant person, but by the love of simple truth. We ought not to ask who is speaking, but mark what is said. Men pass away, but the truth of the Lord remains forever. God speaks to us in many ways without regard for persons.
Our curiosity often impedes our reading of the Scriptures, when we wish to understand and mull over what we ought simply to read and pass by.
If you would profit from it, therefore, read with humility, simplicity, and faith, and never seek a reputation for being learned. Seek willingly and listen attentively to the words of the saints; do not be displeased with the sayings of the ancients, for they were not made without purpose.
That third chapter grabbed me. I wished to understand and mull it over, but all I could do was “simply to read and pass by.” This caused two things come to mind:
- Sometimes when we’re in those unsettled places, all we want is out. Maybe this prayer, or that act, or fill in the blank, will do it. But really what we need to do is stay faithful to the habit of prayer and the habit of doing good so that the habit grows into virtue. We need to simply “be”.
- Scripture tells us God’s word: “…shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.” (Is 55:11) And, “the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword.” (Heb 4:12) We need to stand firm in that Truth and persevere even if what we’re reading doesn’t hit us over the head. In God’s perfect timing, He will shout to us in whispers.
No matter where you find yourself in this season between seasons, take this word and hide it in your heart: “Cling to Him, forsake Him not; thus will your future be great.” (Sir 2:3) Take it out when you need a reminder and your focus will be reset.
In the love of Jesus & Mary, Anne