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When Prayer Is Difficult

October 19, 2019

This picture is of the Monk’s Cemetery at the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemane near Louisville, Kentucky. This was the Abbey where Thomas Merton was a monk from 1941 until his death in 1968. A mystic, poet, photographer, writer, and peace activist; he has been one of my spiritual mentors. It was a beautiful day for simply walking about and absorbing the atmosphere of the Abbey.

I just finished reading a biography of Merton by Jim Forest titled Living With Wisdom: A Life of Thomas Merton. It was a moving account of his life and included much of his own writings and reflections. Merton was a complex man and was honest with his own spiritual wrestling. Prayer was a central part of that and it wasn’t always easy for him. I could definitely relate to some of his struggles.

So what does Thomas Merton have to do with the Scripture readings for this Sunday? As I sat with the Gospel Reading, I wrestled with it and with some of the baggage that has been attached to it through the centuries. Merton was never one to offer pat answers to questions of faith and life. Life is indeed complex and complicated. He recognized that fact and shared publicly through his writings the struggles he had. This story that Jesus told defied pat answers. It calls us to truly wrestle with the passage and our own faith journey.

Life can indeed be complicated and if we are looking for easy and simple answers to prayer, we will be sorely disappointed. God is not some sort of Cosmic Gum-ball Machine where you put in your penny (yes, I am dating myself) and get your reward.

Jesus is talking about persistence in prayer even when you don’t feel like your prayers are being heard. Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. Luke 18:1

This is indeed a troubling parable for folks who expect immediate results from their prayers. It also challenges our concept of justice. But in all reality, it should look somewhat familiar in our day and age. How often do those in power ignore the very real cries for justice of the oppressed? How often do the oppressed give up? One doesn’t have to look much future than the headlines to see this played out.

As I sat with this passage, I have been challenged. I think of the times when I have prayed and prayed and prayed without any sort of an answer other than silence. At those times, I have wondered… Lord, where are you?

How often have I lifted my eyes to the hills as the Psalmist does in Psalm 121? Where does my help come from? The second verse quickly says that our help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. Yet when that help doesn’t come on my timetable, I get frustrated. Yet I am a white male with privilege. How do I think people who are oppressed feel! This is the challenge of this parable.

On the one hand, I admire the widow’s persistence. I truly believe that she will be hewed. On the other hand, am I with my privilege called to be more compassionate than the judge? Is that what the Son of Man will be looking for in my life?

Lord, when you teach us to pray… teach us patience, compassion, and understanding. As I began this blog reflecting on my mentor and brother, Thomas Merton; I now close with some wisdom from his writings.

Prayer does not blind us to the world, but it transforms our vision of the world, and makes us see it, all {people}, and all the history of {humankind}, in the light of God. To pray ‘in spirit and in truth’ enables us to enter into contact with that infinite love, that inscrutable freedom which is at work behind the complexities and the intricacies of human existence. — Thomas Merton in his book, Contemplative Prayer

May God indeed show us the way to pray and love and to live.

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