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Pursue One Thing: Prayer

Unceasing prayer should be the driving goal in our life. February, 1595, Sir Walter Raleigh lead his expedition to find Eldorado. The legend of a golden city enthralled Spanish explorers for generations. Sir Walter was the most relentless. His men scoured over 16,000 square miles of impassible jungles, defying starvation, volatile weather, and savage ambushes. How could a man endure so much? He had an objective. He was obsessed with a vision. This same kind of obsession should drive each Christian man and woman, not an obsession for gold, but an obsession for the Kingdom of Heaven.

“Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on…But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you ” (Matthew 6:25,33).

This is Christ’s famous sermon: “Consider the lilies of the field.” Perhaps, it is famous because it is baffling. No one can hear these words without struggling with them. They should bother you a little. He is not being poetic. This is not hyperbole. Christ is adamant. Avoid the distractions. Seek the one thing.

Of course, the meaning is a little lost in translation.

μὴ μεριμνᾶτε τῇ ψυχῇ ὑμῶν - “Do not let your soul be anxious.”

Mεριμνᾶτε comes from the root verb “Mεριμνᾶw,” which means “to be pulled apart.” This is the story of our life. St. Ignatius describes our condition like a moth fluttering aimlessly. “As a moth flutters from flower to flower, so the scattered man passes from one earthly pleasure to the next, from one useless activity to another.” Pschologists today call this C.P.A. (Continuous Partial Attention) — a mental affliction which is escalating rapidly in our modern lifestyle. In his article, “The Lost Art of Concentration: Being Distracted in a Digital World,” Harriet Griffey describes a world wide phenomenon. “Constant fragmentation of our time and concentration has become the new normal,” Griffey writes, creating an epidemic of cognitive impairment, decreased IQ, and increased anxiety and depression.

This is what Christ refers to when he tells us, “Take no thought for your life.” We need to reexamine our lifestyle. What is contributing to my C.P.A.? What habits, what technologies, what stimuli are feeding my tendency to be anxious and scattered? If you find it, cut it off.

μὴ μεριμνᾶτε τῇ ψυχῇ ὑμῶν - “Do not let your soul be anxious.”

Our Lord is not telling us to keep our head in the clouds. He is calling us to focus on the one thing. So what is it? What should we seek? Unceasing prayer.

“Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on…But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you ” (Matthew 6:25,33).

It is very simple. One pursuit should define our life. One objective should drive us, no less zealously than Sir Walter Raleigh’s obsession for Eldorado. We are here to learn to pray.

What is unceasing prayer?

“The unceasing turning of the mind and heart to God, accompanied by interior warmth or burning of the spirit. This is the limit to which prayer should aspire, [this is] the goal which every prayerful laborer should have in mind” (St. Theophan the Recluse).

I have waisted a lot of time misunderstanding this. For years, I assumed this was the stuff for saints. I have a little booklet at my prayer corner, with a list of personal petitions I ask in the morning. Sometime back, I decided to write down in these daily petitions the request: “Help me to pray unceasingly.” It surprised me how I struggled to even begin requesting this. It felt foolish, even arrogant. Who am I? How could I pray unceasingly? Of course, I cannot as I am now. Unceasing prayer can only be a gift from God. Is it not a gift we should desire? Should we not long for this above everything else?

“What man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (Matthew 7:9).

How often do we not grow in our faith, simply because we do not ask? Rather, how often do we remain stagnant, because we do not want to ask?

In that beautiful classic, It’s a Wonderful Life, George Baylee learned a lesson about prayer. Broken in spirit, George folded his hands and prayed: “Dear Father in Heaven, I’m not a praying man. But if you’re up there and you can hear me, show me the way. I’m at the end of my rope. Show me the way, God.” It is a beautiful prayer and a story of such redemption. Nonetheless, this should not be our prayer. We should not have to be brought low before we get on our knees. Intercessions should define us, in good and bad times. We must become a “praying man” or a “praying woman.” Prayer should be the first thing.

"Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), St. Paul writes. “Pray with all prayer and petition at all times in the spirit” (Ephesians 6:18), so that “our life is hidden with Christ in God” (1 Corinthians 3:16).

Unceasing prayer is the Kingdom of God.

“Nothing throughout man’s experience in his spiritual life is more delightful or enjoyable than [unceasing prayer]. So much so is it that the Fathers have described [unceasing prayer] as the kingdom. This is due to the exquisite happiness and joy, which baffle one’s mind, when the soul draws near to God and tastes him” (St. Matthew the Poor).

Nothing in life is so worthwhile as unceasing prayer. Nothing in life is more important than our pursuit of prayer. The fowls of the air thrive because they are doing what they were made to do. The lilies are beautiful, because they are being what they were made to be. God created us to live in constant communion with him. This is the one pursuit worth pursuing.

“Seek ye first the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:34).

In our habits, our technologies, our dead time, in every spare moment of the day, in our daily petitions and aspirations, we have this opportunity to pursue the Eldorado of the soul: unceasing prayer. May our Lord give us strength and desire to learn to pray.


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