Sunday, May 10, 2009

Ephesians 1:17-19 part two

. . . that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him. May the eyes of (your) hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe . . . (vv 17-19).

It seems the older I get, the more I long for a relationship with God that I do not yet have, an intimacy so close that I can sense Him take me in His arms, sit me on His lap, and let me rest against His chest.

In the last lesson we looked at a few (what I call) criteria for learning to know God. Criteria is probably not a good word, since, as the Psalmist recognized, "Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it" (Psalm 127). Thus, it is not necessarily what we do that grows our intimacy with God, but rather what He does in us and for us.

In other words, we are completely dependant on God's grace. But, the word criteria works well enough for our purposes, so let's keep it.

Another criteria not mentioned in the last lesson is time -- time spent alone with God. It should not surprise us that our ability to know God is directly related to the amount of time we spend with Him. Consider how often the Master made time to be alone with His Father (for example, here, here and here), and how often Scripture enjoins us to get alone with God, (for example, here, here, and here ).

In 2007 I wrote the following reflection about spending time with God. I published the piece in my second book, and reprint it here because it illustrates the point I am trying to make.

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Growing Old with God.

Deepest communion with God is beyond words, on the other side of silence. – Madeleine L'Engle

I hadn’t slept well the night before, and weariness settled over me like a heavy rug. Nancy and I returned home from Mass, ate lunch, and were unwinding on the couch where she continued our conversation about her passion for art. But I couldn't keep my mind from drifting. As it did, my eyes focused on her face.
I’d noticed her changing features before, but somehow this time I saw her anew. Creases feather her cheeks and forehead where her skin was once smooth and supple. Gone is her naturally dark auburn hair. She colors it blonde to mask the gray.
When I asked Nancy to marry me more than three decades ago, I thought I knew her. I thought I loved her. Now, half-listening to her describe the colors she planned to use in her next project, I realized how little I really knew or loved her in 1975.
We’ve weathered many storms during our years together. Some of them were tsunamis. I don’t even like to dredge them up in my memory. Our son suffered through divorce. Nancy’s beloved stepfather died. Two years later, I lost mine. Financial crises and long periods of unemployment often rocked our marriage. Friends turned their backs on us because of our commitment to Christ. And then there were a dozen military-related moves from one end of the country to the other, which forced us to leave family, friends, and familiar places.
Sometimes I wonder how we survived it all. God’s grace? Unquestionably. Intervening from the shadows, often without revealing His hand, our Father brought peace when turmoil overwhelmed us, and freedom when fear bound us. He quieted us when, in frustration, we lashed out at each other instead of going to our knees before our God.
God’s grace, certainly. But something else has proven vital to our relationship: our communication with each other.
I suppose better than eighty percent of our discussions over the years have been casual. You know the kind: What’s for dinner? What happened at work? The kids have colds . . . . But because of that casual eighty percent, she and I can also meet in intimate, deeply personal conversations. We are able to talk about our hopes, joys, fears and dreams because we have spent so much of our time learning about each other. That’s why I know her – and love her – so much more today than I did when we married.
Which brings me to the real point.
Thirty-six years ago, I thought I knew Jesus. I thought I loved him. But, oh, how my knowledge of Him and my love for Him are so very different today than they were in 1972 when I first offered Him my heart.
Why? Unquestionably, because of God’s grace. But I am sure there is something else at work.
Early in my walk with Christ, I learned the importance of communing with Him in prayer, study of Scripture – and more recently since I joined the Catholic Church – in the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist. Over the years, I’ve worn out three Bibles, memorized scores of Scripture texts, and can allude to hundreds more. I’ve spent time with Him each morning, evening, and throughout each day.
To be honest, most of my prayers – eighty percent? – are not what I would call passionate. You know the kind: Lord, I need a good evaluation at work. Mom needs guidance about moving from Florida. Gerry needs a job. Helen’s son is ill. But because of that eighty percent, because I communicate so often with Him, I know how to be intimate with Him when battles rage beyond my control.
In the first stanza of his poem, Rabbi Ben Ezra, Robert Browning wrote, Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be. The last of life, for which the first was made, our times are in His hand who said ‘A whole I planned, youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!
As husbands and wives grow old together, they learn what love and intimacy with each other looks like. When men and women grow old with God, they learn what love and intimacy with Him is like. When life’s storms rip at our foundations, when the hot breath of Satan prickles down our neck, our deeply personal knowledge of God will be our fortress. Our passionate love for Him, born through intimate communion, will be our strength.
Surely, it was for our good, for our help and hope, that the prophet urged: “Seek the Lord while He may be found, call Him while He is near” (Isaiah 55:6).
Live near to God, and all things will appear little to you in comparison with eternal realities.
– Robert Murray M’Cheyne
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The Catechism of the Catholic Church offers many valuable statements about prayer here. Take time to meditate on paragraphs 2700-2724.
Prayer is so foundational to growing into a deeper relationship with God that we will spend another lesson or two on the subject. Please reflect on the following questions.

Questions for Reflection:

1. Did my essay about communicating with someone you love awaken within you a deeper understanding of relationship-building? How will that understanding affect your relationship with the people closest to you, as well as between you and God?

2. I -- as well as others who read this study -- would be interested to know how YOU pray. What methods or tools do you use? Do you follow a pattern or plan? Do you have a special time or place? Let us know in a paragraph or two (or three). We can each learn from each other.

I will share my pattern with you next time.


6 comments:

Jailer said...

I must confess that this is a huge weakness for me. I consider my devotional life to be sporadic, weak and terribly unfocused.

Because of my attention deficit (I won't call it a disorder, but I will call it a deficit), I have come to rely much more on the Psalms to keep these times focused. Otherwise my prayers just drift along the scattered meanderings of my mind.

Richard Maffeo said...

Thanks for the comment, Jailer. You are right, it is a big problem most of us face. That is why I asked readers to comment on the tools/methods they use . . . so we can help each other.

I found a way to mitigate that problem in my own prayer life. Hopefully my method(s) will help others do likewise. I will address the issue of distractions in my next study.

www.pilgrimnursescalling.com said...

One of the tools that I use is the Scriptural Rosary. With it, I meditate upon the life of Christ and imagine myself being present in the scene. I ask myself. How would I feel? How would I act? What would I do? These things allow me to see my faults and my strengths, and ask God for the grace to recognize what I need to build up or tear down to be more present to him.

Daily as I prepare to walk into the busy day of my work, I ask God to help me see what he wants me to see. And to do what he wants me to do. To know his plan for my day, that I might do his will. This is a huge help.

Richard Maffeo said...

Thanks, Pilgrim.

For readers not familiar with the "Scriptural Rosary," visit http://rosarycreations.com/scriptural_rosary_history.htm (or a shorter URL is:
http://tinyurl.com/reagja )
(You may have to cut and paste the URL to your browser).

Gary said...

I listen. Listen. Listen. Try to keep quiet, try to meditate on the mystery. I want God to speak to me. Arrogant on the surface, but as I "mean" speak, I want to know Him as He reveals himself in the world.

Richard Maffeo said...

Thanks, Gary. I know what you mean about listening. It's often hard to do, with so many distractions calling to me. That's the primary reason I devote an hour to prayer and meditation first thing in the morning . . . even before I open my email! -- so I won't have anything of the day encroaching on my time with the Lord. And yet, even then, my mind sometimes drifts.

I keep a notepad next to me so when random thoughts come into my head about things I need to do that day, I write them down so I won't forget them, and then I can return to my prayers.

That works reasonably well for me.