Saturday, December 3, 2005

Praying with the Cogitator - Part III: Praying by Lights From Above

Welcome to the third part of this four-part series on prayer. In part I we looked at ‘my’ ‘technique’ of opening my self’s palms (or faculties, dimensions, etc.) to God, especially when receiving Him in the Mass. In part II we looked at ‘my’ other ‘technique’ of breathing with the heart (‘cardiopnea’), particularly in such a way as to ‘inhale’ your surroundings. Today we will look at ‘my’ third ‘technique’, which I’ve alluded to as ‘weaving with grace’ or ‘the fireworks of grace’. This 'technique' ties in closely with cardiopnea, so I needn't cover as much imaginative ground in this post as in part II. Also, you’ll be happy to know (well, I was!), that I have finally come up with a neologism for this third prayer method: ‘prayertechnics’. (How ironic that while I’ve avoided any suggestion that prayer or the spiritual life is built on only so many ‘techniques’ or tricks, my final meager bit of prayer wisdom uses the very word techne in it!)

Like the other two ‘techniques’ I’ve discussed, prayertechnics is highly imaginative, or, highly vivid. With the prayer of the palms, you systematically imagine each of your ‘parts’ opening, like a palm, to God, neighbor and life. With cardiopnea, you vividly imagine inhaling the Crucified One, or any situation you find yourself in, into your heart and then committing it all expulsively back to God from your heart.

I mentioned in part II that cardiopnea works closely with the third method, prayertechnics, and here is why: prayertechnics is effectively a sub-technique of cardiopnea. Prayertechnics’ spiritual vividness is but a crystallization** of how cardiopnea works. The difference between them, however, is twofold. First, the latter is more general. I try to inhale my surroundings very broadly and without too much personal nattering. Otherwise, I may be distracted by analyzing minutiae. Prayertechnics, by contrast, is meant to be highly specific: names, faces, fine details, etc. A second difference is the, so to speak, direction and intent of the two prayer methods. Cardiopnea is meant to help *us* accept the workings of Providence in *our own* lives, and then, crucially, *commit it all back to God* in a broad, unqualified, unintentional way. Prayertechnics, by contrast, leads us to care for specific other people’s lives, and to commit them to God in the inscrutable web of Providence they find themselves in. More succinctly, cardiopnea is for us and God, whereas prayertechnics is for other people and God.

Enough ‘big picture’ – how does it work? Enter your darkened room. Kneel before a crucifix or an icon of Christ. Pray in whatever fashion you might like; but, when it comes to praying for people in your life – coworkers, neighbors, enemies, family, friends, children, or all of them as one – focus on the grace pouring from Christ. How? As a Roman Catholic I am privileged to have a potent tradition of ‘the Sacred heart’ which helps catalyze my focus on Christ’s outpouring grace. With every breath in, I envision grace streaking like lightning from Christ’s pierced heart to my own piercing heart. His grace, that beautiful light, illuminates and swells, heats and melts, my own heart. Then, as I exhale, I envision the same grace surging from me, as through a conductor, to ‘hit’ other people.

There are generally three ways I envision this explosion of grace. First, I may just imagine Christ’s lightning-like love engulfing the subject of my prayers like a camera flash. Second, since I live so far from so many people I love, I may imagine the grace shooting from me like supernatural lightning – or, like divine long-range missiles – to blast down on the ‘targets’ of my prayer. Third, which is my favorite way, I imagine grace streaking from me, in random array, and crawling at the speed of love over the floor, under doors, up legs, through flesh, to bury itself into someone’s heart. These bolts of grace may be broad like police DO NOT CROSS ribbons, or thread like tinsel or, at times, gold thread. (This is why I first called this practice ‘weaving with grace’.) The different sizes of depend on how genuine and zealous a prayer I ‘emit’ with that breath. In any case, the key is that these cords always find their target. (And yes, dear readers, more than a few of you are often my unsuspecting targets! Beware of falling grace!)

I like the third way of envisioning prayertechnics because it best conveys the feelings and ideas I have while I pray for others: urgency, speed, distance, intimacy, light, power. In fact, believe it or not, the image that I think best captures this vision of prayertechnics is the late great Tron. In that movie, the cars race along lit tracks at hyper-speeds leaving red and blue tracks of overlapping light behind them. If there is an obstacle, they veer left and right, relentlessly seeking the finish line. (Another possible image is that of electricity surging across a circuit board, twisting over and through every gleaming wire.)

Motion. Connection. Energy. Contact. Power, hope, life. With prayertechnics I am keenly aware of St. Paul’s words to the Romans:

26: [T]he Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.
27: And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
28: We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.

29: For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren. ... 37: No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38: For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39: nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Regardless how far from someone I am, whether geographically, spiritually or emotionally, I trust God’s burning love can and does come to me just so I may pass it on to others. And ‘transmitting’ his love is not in vain. His love, propelled by faith in the ‘medium’ of the Holy Spirit, can and does reach its object. Just as Christ’s love bursts through my empty chest to fill me with light, life and love, so too may I expel that living light of love to others. The light of God’s love which He deigns to let me ‘transmit’ is, in the mystery of the Incarnation and Mystical Body, commingled with my own shabby love. By a dim analogy of grace, in which I am blessed to partake in the ministry of Christ, just as 'power came forth from him and healed them all' (Luke 6:19), so too I send out God’s love to others, vividly wrapping them in a golden cocoon of love, and even more vividly wrapping their hearts in the saving threads of love. As St. Paul says, ‘God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit... [so] the love of Christ controls us, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died’ (Romans 5:5 and 2 Corinthians 5:14).

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