FR. RON ROLHEISER, omi
November 13, 2000
Many of us struggle with prayer, both to take time to pray and then to be actually interested in God while we are praying. The problem is not just that we are restless and that prayer takes us away from other things, but also that we do not think that God is all that interesting.
The God we imagine and then try to meet in prayer is generally conceived of as pretty lifeless, dull, flat, colourless, genderless, sexless and lacking in wit, creativity and understanding.
If the truth be told, we feel that our friends and distractions are more interesting and life-giving than God. This is probably not something we would ever admit to ourselves or say out loud, but we would rather spend time with our friends and amusements than with God.
As awful as this sounds, it is both natural and understandable, given that we rarely imagine God as the source of all that is, including the wonders, pleasures and joys we experience in our friendships, achievements and distractions. The problem is not so much that we are pagan or immoral, but that we fail to see our friends, creativity, and compensatory distractions against an infinite horizon. All good things come from God and God is in them as their ultimate source. Rarely do we conceptualize that in any meaningful way.
For example, all of us know persons who impress us with their generosity, compassion, wit, beauty, intelligence, innocence, ingenuity, style, or with some combination of these. We are drawn to such persons and find them a source of energy and stimulation. We welcome chances to draw them into our lives and to be drawn into theirs.
God, it would seem, offers less. Human grace, beauty, wit, and understanding seem to redeem us in a way that God doesn't. A powerful movie energizes us more than does a liturgy; a mindless sitcom or a sporting event relaxes us more at the end of a day than does prayer; and the understanding and smile of a good friend bestows more consolation on us than does any item in the creed.
Small wonder we find prayer difficult. Time spent in prayer seems like time spent in duty, time taken away from what really interests us.
This is not as immoral and irreligious as it is unfortunate. All the things that we draw meaning and life from – friendship, the joys and pleasures of our daily lives, our achievements, the beauty of nature, art and music, sporting events, movies and theatre, wine-drinking, good humour, and even the distraction of the mindless sitcom – should never, in the name of God or religion, be denigrated.
Indeed they can help show us the face of God since God is their ultimate author and all that's real in them in terms of love, character, personality, beauty, energy, colour, wit, and humour is not only also found in God but is found there a billion-fold.
If you think a friend is wonderful and understanding, how much more so is God? If you think some film star or athlete is graceful or beautiful, how much more so is God? If you think some writer is interesting, how much more so is God? If you think some comedian is funny, how much more so is God?
We restlessly, greedily chase what's beautiful, interesting, creative, funny, and haunting, without realizing that all of this, multiplied by a billion, is inside of the God to whom we pay attention only reluctantly and out of duty.
The real reason that we are less than fully interested in God and prefer instead to stimulate ourselves through music, movies, entertainment, conversations, and the like, is that we don't see God as containing these, as being their author. We see God as less interesting.
No wonder we don't want to pray! The God we go to pray to is as grey and dull as an unlit church. In such a God we will not meet the wonderful understanding of a good friend, the creativity of a great novelist, the energy of a rock musician, the sweet sensation of falling in love, the beauty of a young body, the redeeming satisfaction of a great achievement, the taste of a good wine, the delight of a favourite sports team winning a big game, or the needed numbing distraction after an overly intense day.
God can be for us, as Jesus and the mystics suggest, the ultimate friend, lover, artist, companion, musician, comedian, distraction, the most haunting, interesting, and sought-after of all persons. But for this to happen we must let God be God, the author of all, the square-root of all that's character, compassionate, creative, erotic, beautiful, athletic, humorous and life-giving taken to its billionth power.