Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 31, 2002
Pray in an affective way: Keep it simple
By FR. RON ROLHEISER, omi
Nothing changes us as much for the good as to hear someone say he or she loves us.
John's Gospel already makes that point. The Gospel of John, as we know, structures itself very differently from the other gospels. John has no infancy narratives or early life of Jesus. In his Gospel, we meet Jesus as an adult right on the first page and the first words out of Jesus' mouth are a question: "What are you looking for?" That question remains throughout the rest of the Gospel as a hermeneutical colouring suggesting that beneath everything else, a certain search is going on.
Jesus answers that question explicitly only at the end of the Gospel on the morning of the resurrection. Mary Magdala goes looking for him, carrying spices with which to embalm his dead body. Jesus meets her, alive and in no need of embalming, but she doesn't recognize him. Bewildered, but sincere, she asks Jesus where she might find Jesus (something, I suspect, we do often enough in prayer). Jesus, for his part, repeats for her the question he opened the Gospel with: "What are you looking for?" Then he answers it:
With deep affection, he pronounces her name: "Mary." In doing that, he tells her what she and everyone else are forever looking for, God's voice, one-to-one, speaking unconditional love, gently saying your name. In the end, that's what we are all looking for and most need. It's what gives us substance, identity and justification beyond our own efforts to make ourselves lovable, worthwhile and immortal.
How to give ourselves significance? We need to hear God, affectionately, one-to-one, pronounce our names: "Carolyn!" "Julia!" "Kern!" "Steve!" "Sophia!" Nothing will heal us more of restlessness, bitterness and insecurity than to hear God say: "I love you!"
Part of affective prayer is also that we, one to one, with affection, occasionally at least, say the same thing to God: "I love you!" In all long-term, affectionate relationships, the partners have to occasionally prompt each other to hear expressions of affection and reassurance. It's not good enough to tell a marriage partner or a friend just once "I love you!" It needs to be said regularly. The relationship of prayer is no different.
Prayer, it is said, is not meant to change God but us.
And nothing changes us as much for the good as to hear someone say he or she loves us, especially if that someone is God.
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