Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, "In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, 'Grant me justice against my opponent.' For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, 'Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.'" And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" -Luke 18:1-8
About This Week's Prompts for Personal Meditation
Sometimes it's only in retrospect that I realize I have persevered at something. Usually I'm too busy doing what I have to do in the moment. But when given (or just taking) the opportunity for reflection, I find that I've made progress through all sorts of struggles and wrestlings to better myself in one way or the other. Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not lose heart. In a certain city sits a comically self-regarding judge - and we all know the fellow! This misanthrope doesn't care about your righteous cause. But God does know. Pray like the importunate widow, says Jesus. Break through the guardians of your own fear, timidity, propriety, pride. Let the world see you rattle upon the gates of heaven demanding justice. And don't lose heart. The meditations for this week draw upon the virtue of perseverance (meditation one), asking God for the very gift of perseverance with which to approach God (meditation two) and, like Jacob contending with the angel through the night, embracing the new life that comes with dawn.
Steadfastly yours, Suzanne
Meditation One (introit) perseverance
A hermit has persevered for thirty years. One day he said to himself, 'I have now spent so many years here and I have had not vision and performed no miracle as did the Fathers who were monks before me'. And he was tempted to go back into the world. Then he was told, 'What miracle do you want to perform that would be more extraordinary than the patience and courage God has given you and which allowed you to persevere for so long?' A Desert Father cited by Marcel Driot, from The Desert, An Anthology for Lent, John Moses
It is not perfection that leads us to God; it is perseverance. -Joan Chittister OSB The Rule of Benedict
In vain Thou strugglest to get free, I never will unloose my hold: Art Thou the Man that died for me? The secret of thy love unfold; Wrestling I will not let Thee go, Till I thy name, thy nature know.
-Charles Wesley 1707-1788 Wrestling Jacob (verse 3)
Unknown Illustrator of Petrus Comestor's Bible Historiale, 1372
Miscellany Advice from Bernard of Clairvaux
When you are feeling strong, do not be complacent, but call to God with the prophet and say: "When my strength fails me, do not abandon me" [Ps 70:9]. And in time of temptation be consoled and say with the bride: "Draw me after you, and we shall run in the odor of your ointments" [Ps 33:2]. Thus you will not lose hope in bad times, nor will foresight desert you in good times, and amid both the prosperity and adversity of changing times you will retain an certain image of eternity - that is, this inviolable and unshakable constancy of a stable soul - blessing the Lord at every moment. In this way you claim for yourself, even amid the doubtful events and inevitable deficiencies of this changing world, a certain status of lasting unchangeability while you begin to renew and reform yourself according to the ancient pattern of likeness to the eternal God, "in whom there is neither alteration nor the shadow of change" [Jas 1:17].
Bernard of Clairvaux 1090-1153 On the Song of Songs quoted from Essential Monastic Wisdom, Hugh Feiss
Jacob Wrestles the Angel, Michiel van der Borch, 1332
Jacob Wrestles the Angel, Unknown Illustrator of Petrus Comestor's Bible Historiale, 1372
Meditation Two (insight) let me go steadily on
My God, I pray that I may so know you and love you that I may rejoice in you. And if I may not do so fully in this life, let me go steadily on to the day when I come to that fullness. …
God of truth, I ask that I may receive, so that my joy may be full. Meanwhile, let my mind meditate on it, let my tongue speak of it, let my heart love it, let my mouth preach it, let my soul hunger for it, my flesh thirst for it, and my whole being desire it, until I enter into the joy of my Lord, who is God one and triune, blessed forever. Amen.
-Anselm c.1033-1109 Proslogion
Meditation Three (integration) till daybreak Weeping we hold him fast to-night; We will not let Him go Till daybreak smite our wearied sight And summer smile the snow. Then figs shall bud, and dove with dove Shall coo the livelong day; Then He shall say "Arise, My love, My fair one, come away." -Christina Rossetti 1830-1894
The Last Word
The Present, the Present is all thou hast For thy sure possessing; Like the patriarch's angel hold it fast Till it gives its blessing. -John Greenleaf Whittier 1807-1892
Does God lose heart continually coming to us?
And Not Lose Heart
I vividly remember pretending this text with my Church School classes when I was a children's priest. We played the story over and over so everyone got to be the judge, the widow, the guards keeping the widow from the judge, the obsequious attendants, and other folk waiting their turn for justice. One ingenious 5th grade boy chose a Harpo Marx wig from the costume rack and played the widow as if she were mad. This rendering was the most memorable because it was the most absurd and funny. But we all internalized the story that day.
Anyone who takes a life a prayer seriously experiences long stretches- years, or maybe a lifetime, when “nothing happens”: no miracles, no voices or fluttering of angel wings, no perceived coincidences, no sign of reciprocity from the Divine. Like the desert monk in meditation one (above) after thirty years one might be tempted to give up.
But here's an analogue to the life of prayer: Israel dwelt in the desert for forty years living a miracle, eating manna, following the pillar of cloud and fire. Numinous! Nevertheless, the people complained continually and fashioned a golden calf to worship while Moses lingered up on the mountain in the cloud of Divine Presence. Generations later, during the prosperity of the Davidic era, the Israelites looked back upon the escape from Egypt with awe, and the sojourn in the desert with reverence - even as a sort of honeymoon with Yahweh.
Maybe the persistence asked from us requires not only retrospection but introspection. Looking again. Opening to the moment more deeply. Listening more profoundly. Perceiving the holy behind the ordinary. The Sacred within the mundane.
Perhaps you have to be a little mad not only to pray but to pray and not lose heart.