Beginning to pray is the project of a lifetime. The entry of the Word of the Father into human history makes this project possible. This entry is not convenient or easy for God or man. Love never is. It demands taking up our freedom in the most difficult and most worthwhile of all human endeavors – the effort to attend to and respond to love.
Beginning to pray is learning to respond with love to the Living God who has called out for our love as if helpless and completely vulnerable. The Creator of the whole Cosmos speaks to us in supreme humility allowing His almighty voice to be contained in the hopeful cries of a hungry infant.
One does not always hear at first how His invincible will reverberates. For those who persevere in listening for this voice, they hear its harmony resound in the gentle way the the Word made flesh allowed Himself to be encompassed by the frailty of human freedom: conceived and born of the “fiat” of a lowly handmaid, bound by her in swaddling clothes, placed by her in a manger in the cave in Bethlehem. This is what we must attend to in our hearts and respond to with our lives — God’s still small voice is echoed in the plight of those entrusted to us, the poor, the vulnerable and the most needy in our midsts.
In this still darkness, “the Visible Image of the Invisible God” speaks into our reality, historical and personal, impatiently awaiting our response. He believes in our liberty so much that He freely chose to enter into it and submit Himself to it. He kisses human freedom with divine freedom – over two thousand years ago in history; today right now in mystery. This kiss cost Him dearly and those who attempt to respond to Him also must renounce themselves, pick up their cross, and follow Him. Yet those who pray pay this price gladly because human liberty raised by grace is capable of love — and one free thought filled with love of Him is worth more to Him than all the universe combined.
For more of Anthony’s insights on prayer, don’t miss his book, Hidden Mountain Secret Garden, an experience like no other. Anthony has an unusually profound understanding of mystical theology and lives a life of deep prayer. Among his many accomplishments and responsibilities, Dr. Lilles now teaches theology for the Avila Institute.
Art: Detail of The Adoration of the Shepherds, Charles Le Brun, 1689, PD-US author’s term of life plus 100 years of less, Wikimedia Commons.