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Is Prayer an Escape from the Real World?

August 30, 2016 by  
Filed under Anthony Lilles, Prayer


Is Prayer an Escape from the Real World?


Some think that prayer is an escape from the real world. To these, I say that there are prisons from which it is good to escape. Lots of people banally exist imprisoned in what we call “the real world.” Locked up in the fantasy land of adults and the culturally and politically powerful, they are not free to live life to the full.

PrayerTheThankfulPoor1894HenryOssawaTanner - for "Is Prayer an Escape from the Real World?" postAll the same, I cannot agree that prayer is an escape from reality. It is rather the opposite. Those who do not pray are sometimes trying to escape basic truths about our existence – after all, life is short and eternity long, the way to salvation is as narrow as the path to perdition is wide, and divine justice will hold us accountable if we will not hold ourselves responsible before divine mercy. Prayer is about facing this reality, this truth about our lives and about the world.

Those who ignore the impulse deep in our nature to cry out to God, those close their ears to all the ways God cries out to us every moment of every day, those who shut their eyes to the glory that is breaking in around us — what they call “the real world” is an enchanting escape and hiding place from reality. The problem is there are lots of dehumanizing traps in “the real world.” Anxious occupation over whether we are as comfortable, safe, successful and influential in our careers as we want is not a motivator toward excellence or the fullness of life — it is to live imprisoned by fear.

RobertKemmGebetVorDerStierkampfThere are self-appointed jailers who would rather that we never had this freedom. They encourage us to grasp for and cleave to material bliss — even as they know that this does not answer the pain in our hearts. They know this because they suffer from it too, even if they are very good at pretending they do not. These are the culturally and politically powerful whose only joy is outweighed by the fear that it will be lost in an instant. In their despair, they are inclined to keep our hopes locked up in some bright future that never comes or else shackled down with nostalgia for a past that was never as good as they suggest.

Christian prayer offers an escape from such oppression for the humble. This prayer lifts up the heart and places it in the hands of the One who conquered death. An ongoing conversation with Christ, this prayer teaches us to submit every thought to Him so that He can lead us into freedom – not in the future, but right now, in this present moment. There is no earthly or celestial or under-worldly power that can come between us and the love of God.

AngelWithIncenceDetailSConcaAdoracionDeLosPastores1720GettyMuseumLosAngelesBreaking with all manner of imprisonment prayer stands, prayer battles, prayer rises and this prayer professes the creed by which weak humanity is endowed with divine freedom. Prayer stands on reality itself, the deepest truth of all that is, the Reality from which all other reality comes and to which it goes. Prayer battles for all that is noble, good, holy, true and most vulnerable about humanity — because our Savior would have us do no less. Indeed, we are only following His example. Prayer rises up like incense bringing to the suffering of earth into the glory of heaven – hoping with every reason to hope that it will be on earth as it is in heaven.

Our jailers are afraid to allow us to stand on our own in real prayer – prayer that expresses itself in all kinds of real works of mercy – because they do not understand the ground under our feet. They hate what our creed demands – so they mock while we must stand fast by the truth. They cannot bear the bold stands we take in the public square – so they deride while we must appeal to their humanity. They do not want to deal with the truth – so they interrupt while we must try to make our case.  BabyBoyOneMonthOldThey fear our freedom to love the most vulnerable, so they concoct laws to take it away and then deny with aggrieved indignation that they have harmed us in any way.

But despite their efforts, the freedom that we know by prayer cannot be denied. In the last century, ideologues tried to destroy the Christian faith – those cultural and political powers are no more. But Christian prayer remains a reality in the real world, a sign of hope for those who most need one. If anyone should want to break out of banal existence to live life to the full, including the jailers themselves, the Deliverer is just a prayer away.


Editor’s Note: Click here to find out more about why you should pray and how to make your whole life a conversation with God through contemplative prayer by reading Anthony’s new book: Fire from Above – Christian Contemplation and Mystical Wisdom.


Art for this post which asks if prayer is an escape from the real world: The Thankful Poor, Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1894, PD-US published in the US prior to January 1, 1923; Das Gebet vor dem Stierkampf (The Prayer Before the Bullfight), Robert Kemm, by 1895, PD-US author’s life plus 70 years or less; Angel with Incense Detail from The Adoration of the Shepherds, Sebastiano Conca, 1720, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less; Baby boy one month old, Nils Fretwurst, 2004, CC-SA; all Wikimedia Commons.

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About Anthony Lilles

Anthony Lilles, a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, completed his graduate and post-graduate studies in Rome at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas. He and his lovely wife, Agnes, are blessed with three children and live in California, where he is the Academic Dean, and Associate Professor of Theology, St. John's Seminary, Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and Academic Advisor at Juan Diego House, House of Formation for Seminarians. For over twenty years, Dr. Lilles worked for the Denver Archdiocese directing parish religious education, R.C.I.A. and youth ministry, as well as serving as Director of the Office of Liturgy for the Archdiocese and as Coordinator of Spiritual Formation for the permanent diaconate. In 1999, he became a founding faculty member of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary where he was Academic Dean for nine years and Associate Professor of Theology. He is a Board Member for the Society of Catholic Liturgy. Dr. Lilles has provided graduate level courses on a variety of topics including the Eucharist, the Sacraments of Healing, Church History, Spiritual Theology, Spiritual Direction and on various classics of Catholic Spirituality. His expertise is in the spiritual doctrine of Blessed Elisabeth of the Trinity and the Carmelite Doctors of the Church: St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross and St. Thérèse of Lisieux. In 2012, Discerning Hearts published his book "Hidden Mountain, Secret Garden: A Theological Contemplation on Prayer," a compilation of discussions with seminarians, students, and contemplatives about the spiritual life. He collaborated with Dan Burke on the books "30 Days with Teresa of Avila" and "Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux". And, his book "Fire from Above" was published in 2016. Among his many accomplishments and responsibilities, Dr. Lilles now teaches theology for the Avila Institute. He blogs at

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  • ed mays

    Great thoughtful reading. I am behind in my own praying as I think most people are. We are so busy surrounded by many materialistic, ugly and evil things and people and forget WHO gave us life. This article gives me pause to think now and pray more often. Thank you, Dr Lilles.

  • Nosidam

    Thank you. Many in my own family are caught up in the “real” world. The culture consumes.
    The lure of the world beckons
    seductively. My only recourse seems to often be to just crying out to our Lord to please let me hold on tightly to Him. I am often just a frightened child who needs my daddy to stay close.
    Maybe people think prayers are just memorized words.
    Somehow stubborn clueless people need suffering to recognize that God is right here and they can talk directly to Him.

  • Joan

    “because they do not understand the ground under our feet”. This is so true. Thank you Dr. Lilles for this truly inspiring piece on the beauty and necessity of prayer.

  • Mary Lu

    This is a wonderful article to remind me of the truth. Then I looked at the author’s name. It sounds vaguely familiar. Like from a long time ago. Did he go to Steubenville when I was there? I read the bio and yes he did. I was there from 1985-1989.

    • LizEst

      A graced on-line encounter!

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