Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Reading Our Family History

As our friend Evelyn Underhill writes, “the proper feeding of our own devotional life must . . . include the rightful use of spiritual reading.

“Spiritual reading is, or at least it can be, second only to prayer as a developer and support of the inner life . . . It should not be confined to Scripture, but should also include at least the lives and writings of the canonized and uncanonized saints.

“If we do it properly, such reading is a truly social act. It gives us not only information, but communion . . . with the great souls of the past, who are the pride and glory of the Christian family. Studying their lives and work slowly and with sympathy, reading the family history, the family letters; trying to grasp the family point of view, we gradually discover these people to be in origin though not in achievement very much like ourselves.

“They are people who are devoted to the same service, handicapped often by the very same difficulties; and yet whose victories and insights humble and convict us . . . The Confessions of St. Augustine, the Life of St Teresa, the little book of Brother Lawrence, the Journals of Fox, Woolman and Wesley—the meditative, gentle, receptive reading of this sort of literature immensely enlarges our social and spiritual environment.

“It is one of the ways in which the communion of saints can be most directly felt by us.

“In the saints we always have the bracing society of keen Christians . . . Their personal influence radiates, centuries after they have left the earth, reminding us of the infinite variety of ways in which the Spirit of God acts on people through people . . .

“The saints are the great experimental Christians, who, because of their unreserved self-dedication, have made the great discoveries about God, and, as we read their lives and works, they will impart to us just so much of these discoveries as we are able to bear. Indeed, as we grow more and more, the saints tell us more and more: disclosing at each fresh reading secrets that we did not suspect.

“Their books are the work of specialists, from whom we can humbly learn more of God and of our own souls” (Concerning The Inner Life, Oneworld Publications, Oxford, England, 1999, page 54-56).

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Breathe Out.

After breathing in it’s natural to breathe out. For those who pray, short “arrow prayers” are often the equivalent of exhaling. In Pray How to Be Effective in Prayer by Warren and Ruth Myers (NavPress, Colorado Springs, Colorado, 1983, pages 111-115), the Myers note that “Short, concise payers offered anytime, anywhere are both scriptural and immensely useful.”

“We have had similar experiences with prayers which, like arrows quickly shot from a bow toward a target, are shot toward heaven for immediate help, guidance, or protection, or in response to special prompting.”

“We can use arrow prayers to intercede for others, even strangers,” writes Warren Myers. “Many times when I pass a person on the street or see someone on a bus, the Lord prompts me to pray that the person might come to know Him or have a special need met. Though we seldom learn of specific answers to such prayers, God hears them.”

“Nehemiah was a master of such prayers. While he was serving as cupbearer for Artaxerxes, ruler of the Persian Empire, he received the distressing news that the wall of Jerusalem had been broken down and the gates had been burned. Later, when King Artaxerxes unexpectedly asked Nehemiah to state his request regarding Jerusalem, he quickly ‘prayed to the God of heaven,” then answered the King. Later in Jerusalem, when enemies tried to frighten Nehemiah and his men to prevent them from rebuilding the city wall, his emergency prayer was, ‘But now, O God, strengthen my hands.’ Nehemiah concluded his book with a brief cry to God that he often used, with variations: ‘Remember me, O my God for good.’”

The so-called “prayer of aspirations” is the technical term used by old school writers like Evelyn Underhill to describe arrow prayers more formally “The frequent and attentive use of little phrases of love and worship . . . keep our minds pointing the right way, and never lose their power of forming and maintaining in us an adoring temper of soul . . . They stretch and re-stretch our spiritual muscles; and, even in the stuffiest surroundings can make us take deep breaths of mountain air. The habit of aspiration is difficult to form, but once acquired exerts a growing influence over the soul’s life” (Concerning the Inner Life, Oneworld Publications, Oxford, England, 1999, pages 52-53).

In other words: practice, practice, practice. Pray. Breathe Out.