Praying The News
Theological Reflection: Responding To World Events
Vilma Seelaus, O.C.D.
Barrington , R.I.
I begin my reflection with a word from Scripture and a word from Teresa. In the Gospel of John, Jesus invites us to a relationship of indwelling:
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, you will bear much fruit.
Teresa reminds us in her Way of Perfection:
“Our primitive rule states that we are to pray without ceasing. If we do this with all the care possible – for unceasing prayer is the most important aspect of the rule – the fasts, the disciplines, and the silence the order commands will not be wanting. For you already know that if prayer is to be genuine, it must be helped by these other things; prayer and comfortable living are incompatible.” Way.4.2.
Prayer And Comfortable Living Are Incompatible
I ask myself the question: what do Teresa's words mean for us who are Carmelite Nuns living in a postmodern world? What is integral to our life of prayer today that is meant to discomfort us? Prayer and world events immediately come to mind. In 16th century Spain , news traveled by foot or by horseback while today's technology allows us to see things as they actually happen. Do you remember what it felt like as you watched one after the other of the twin towers burst into flame? Or as you saw the sky over Baghdad brilliant with colored light from our so called smart bombs knowing that on the ground below too often innocent persons were being killed or maimed for life while the powerful remained tucked away in safety? Daily we see one tragic event after another. Can we remain comfortable in the face of oppression and suffering that daily we read about or see on television? Can we have such heightened awareness of human need and not reflect before God with the searching question: Is anything different being asked of us as Carmelites in this 21st century who live in a world so different from Teresa's?
Reflecting on the Question
In the first chapters of The Way of Perfection, Teresa does what we call, theological reflection, on the events of her day. In an impassioned prayer to Christ, she pours out her heart's desire to respond to the pressing needs of her church and world with the firm belief that her inadequacy as a woman is not a problem since her trust is in the merits of the suffering Christ. Teresa next turns to her daughters with the challenging admonition:
And when your prayers, desires, disciplines and fasts are not directed toward obtaining these things I mentioned, [referring to religious wars, and the particular needs of bishops and theologians] reflect on how you are not accomplishing or fulfilling the purpose for which the lord brought you here together. 3.10.
Teresa's concerns are not completely unlike our own. The bishops, priests and theologians of today's Church make the news both in what they do and in what they fail to do. War, even religious wars are still with us. Even 16th century Spain 's obsession with honor finds a new name in consumerism. The cumulative burden of so much of violence, poverty, oppression and war-mindedness, just in our own country, can feel overwhelming. What is the purpose for which the Lord brings us together in our monasteries today?
Dorothee Soelle in her challenging book, The Silent Cry: Contemplation and Resistance, insists that resistance of some sort is integral to prayer. She maintains:
“There is no experience of God that can be so privatized that it becomes and remains the property of one owner, the privilege of a person of leisure, the esoteric domain of the initiated”.
Does this reality call for a change in our lifestyle in order to actively meet the demands of today? I believe that it does indeed call for radical change - but not in the direction of more activity or of direct political involvement, although perhaps some may feel inclined toward this. Instead, even with the changed reality for women in today's world, I remain convinced that Teresa continues to challenge us, in spite of changed circumstances, to a mission that is grounded in ever deepening passion for God through a living, loving intimate relationship with the Risen Christ. Union with Christ in prayer places us at the very heart of the world where the divine energies of the Risen Christ slowly, silently, persistently transforms everything from human to cosmic existence. Through our ministry of prayer, we carry within ourselves the groaning of creation for ultimate transformation, with the belief that even the worst in our struggling
Karl Rahner in his Easter reflections penetrates this hidden reality. I regularly ponder his profound insights. He writes:
Jesus himself said that he would descend into the heart of the earth, (Mt 12:40) that is, into the heart of all earthly things where everything is linked into one and where in the midst of that unity death and futility sit. In death he descended there. By a holy ruse of eternal life he allowed himself to be overcome by death, allowed death to swallow him into the innermost center of the world so that having descended to the primordial forces and the radical unity of the world, he might establish his divine life in it forever.
Rahner then asks the penetrating question:
Is Christ or is he not risen from the dead? We believe in His resurrection. Is this true? Do we believe all that is involved in this? …
He is the living one. He is the victor over sin and death. He is not one who ascended into heaven in order to disappear from world history as if he had never been in it. He ascended into heaven after he had descended into the depth of sin, death and the lost world, and came out of this abyss, which contained everything, alive. More: there in the ultimate lostness, where all viciousness springs and where all streams of tears have their origin and where the last source of all hatred and self-seeking abides – that is where he has won the victory. He won it not by shoving the world from himself and by heaving it away, but by the fact that by losing himself, he forced his way into the innermost center whence its entire destiny springs forth, seized this center, and accepted it for all eternity. And so he has already transformed the world …by becoming the heart of the world, its ultimate finality, its most secret and inward strength.
If we truly believe in the risen Christ, every dark event in our lives and in our world is now a privileged place of encounter with the risen Christ whose divine presence permeates, and silently realizes from within the heart of the world, a transformation that has already taken place. If we accept that Christ is the heart of the world, its ultimate finality and its most secret strength, as Rahner asserts, can we then not dare to believe in the redemptive possibilities within every human situation – from the very ordinary to the most desperate?
Ours Is A Life Of Unceasing Prayer
According to our Rule, we commit ourselves to walking in the footsteps of Jesus, through a life of unceasing prayer. To do so, Teresa, our mentor and guide, insists that we live mindfully - attentive to the one in whose presence we are when we pray. Mindfulness, or a spirit of recollection, allows us even in our most demanding moments of busyness to be contemplatively busy. Living mindfully releases the soul from the temptation of frenetic activity that leaves the heart agitated and without the inner quiet of recollection. Attentiveness to God and efforts to live within the divine silence of inner mindfulness connects us with Christ's transforming energy.
Dare we believe that such depth of living makes even our most simple of actions alive with the redeeming, life-giving energies of the Risen Christ who centers our existence and who wants to be the heart of all of our thoughts, desires and actions?
What Might This Mean In Practice
The prophet Elijah, our father and inspired leader gave his self- definition for us to claim as our own. The Lord God lives in whose sight I stand- and - With zeal have I been zealous for the Lord God of Hosts. To be zealous for the Lord God of Hosts is not a comfortable way to live. Elijah actually wanted to die, wearied as he was from the struggle with false prophets and the machinations of queen Jezebel. The deceptions of power were leading the people away from worshiping the one true God. It took God to renew hope in Elijah though a simple act of providing bread and meat along with tender, caring words: “Eat Elijah or the journey will be too much for you”.
The burden of today's world often feels too much. All too much in our country and in our world leaves me extremely uncomfortable especially when viewed through the prism of gospel values and as a follower of Jesus. As I take community, national and international issues to prayer - prayer itself at times adds to my discomfort. God is an intimate presence within whom I live in almost constant awareness. And yet, the deeper the experience of God, the more the soul encounters the God of incomprehensible mystery, so fidelity to the daily hours of prayer is not always easy. Often, doing other things feels more rewarding. Sitting in dark silence, sometimes noised with endless distractions, can seem fruitless and a waste of time. My feelings tell me I could have been doing something more useful. And yet, as I cling to the Risen One, He reassures me with the words: “If you abide in me and my words abide in you, you will bear much fruit.”
Love and Fidelity Make the Difference
If barren Sara and Abraham, in their advanced years, can believe in a promised offspring as numerous as the sands of the seashore, I too can take heart. Teresa's concludes The Interior Castle by reminding us not to build castles in the air because, “The Lord doesn't look so much at the greatness of our works as at the love with which they are done”. Life is short, she says, maybe shorter than we think so don't tire too quickly, instead, “let us offer the lord interiorly and exteriorly the sacrifice we can. His majesty will join it with that which he offered on the cross to the Father for us. Thus even though our works are small they will have the value our love for Him would have merited had they been great. I.C. V11.4.15
Each night before going to bed, I unite the little that is mine with the All that is Christ. He is the vine in whom I am branched. In this, I maintain the daring hope that God's promise to Abraham and Sara will also be realized in me. This is not always soul comfortable, since it is grounded in dark faith and in a hope that has only the God of mystery to cling to – the hope that my prayer and my life, united with the Crucified -Risen One will indeed bear much fruit according to God's mysterious designs.
Carriers of Hope
Carmel's commitment to a life of prayer is not a comfortable way to live. But if we live faithfully within the limitations of our desert/community way of life, if we persevere in prayer even when it doesn't seem to make a dent toward world peace, or the elimination of injustice and poverty, we can have the daring hope that Christ will take our entire being -which in the end, is the fullness of the little that is ours, and unite it with Himself. To the extent that we are united with the Risen Christ within the inner wine cellar of the soul, our offspring, like that of Abraham and Sara, like our Sister Therese, will be numerous beyond counting.
As committed, faith-filled pray-ers, we carry hope for those who dare not believe, still less hope, because they have been so beaten down. Hope is not delusionary optimism; the Lord of life was tortured and put to death, so inevitably will we know discomfort and perhaps much suffering in life. What is certain is that whatever happens, God in Christ lives in us and in all that is of our world. World events now take place in God through the Risen Christ who has taken all of creation to Himself. Remember Teresa's vision in chapter ten of the sixth dwelling place where she too sees all things IN GOD. God is now the castle and “within this castle, that is within God Himself, the abominations, indecent actions and evil deed committed by us sinners take place.” V1.10.3
The whole of our lives takes place in God, through Christ, who fills all of reality with the energies of His risen life. Through our prayer ministry, we carry this reality for the human community: that we are all branches of God's incarnate life. No matter how uncomfortable and insignificant our individual life might seem before the enormity of world events, each one of us can have the daring hope that through our fidelity to prayer and to a life lived in God, future generations, as the human psyche continues to evolve, will begin life with a clarity of vision in God that will no longer tolerate oppression, injustice, the greed of consumerism, and the violence of war.