Though created in the image of God – man has fallen far. The image is not demolished, but we have not fulfilled the likeness and we frequently distort the image beyond recognition. Part of the true human life described in Genesis, are the “walks in the Garden” with God. Man and God converse – they share communion with one another. We see the restoration of this in the life of Christ whose constant life of prayer is frequently referenced in the Scripture.
Man makes a return to the Garden when he turns to God in prayer. The essence of all prayer is communion with God. Prayer, even intercessory prayer, is always about communion with God. We do not pray in order to change God’s mind. We do not pray in order to get things. We do not pray in order to make things happen. We pray in order to be in communion with God, Who alone does what He wills, gives what He wills, and governs the universe without advice from anxious men.
As we pray, and the more truly we pray, we unite ourselves to God, and His actions. His will and His gifts become things for which we can give thanks.
I have often read about the “habit of prayer.” The one problem with this description is that it can be seen as an activity that we ought to do often, when prayer is, in fact, a state of being in which we should dwell constantly. We are not ever truly ourselves when we are not in prayer.
As communion with God, prayer is itself life-giving. How could we want a life-giving activity to be less than constant? If we are engaging in activities that are not life-giving, then we are exercising communion with death. There is no neutral ground.
This does not mean that we may not go about our daily chores and responsibilities. But learning to go about them in a state of communion with God is to learn what it is to live our lives as truly human. We were not created for death, but for life and communion with God.
There are many ways we maintain such a communion: use of the Jesus Prayer; the use of frequent or constant thanksgiving; the use of small verses of Scripture offered up to God throughout our activities. There is nothing we do, apart from sin, that cannot be done better in communion with God. If it is an activity that we cannot ask God’s blessing for, then it is an activity that we should avoid. As St. Paul said, “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin.”
Most important to me as I think on this topic is the true nature of prayer and communion with God. Prayer will not be a habit so long as it seems a laborious activity that we carry out because we “ought to.” This is the thought of a slave and not a son. Until we come to know God as our Father we will not be able to pray in such a way that it can become our true life. This is a gift of grace, a kindness from God. If you pray like a slave, then ask for the gift to pray like a son. God is a good God and wishes to free us from slavery and adopt us as His children.
Though the desert fathers said, “Prayer is a struggle to a man’s dying breath,” it is also true that prayer should increasingly be a source of life for us, so that even if we struggle, it is as if a man who has difficulty breathing still struggles to breathe. He doesn’t just give up on breathing because it’s too much trouble. He will breathe until he can breathe no more. We must pray until we can pray no more.