Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Prayer of Discouragement

"It is impossible for a person who prays regularly to remain in serious sin; because the two are incompatible, one or the other will have to be given up." -- St Teresa of Avila

Is this true? Questions come to mind. Are we really unable to pray when we've settled in sin for the long haul? Is St. Teresa referring to personal sin (which I suspect) or systemic evil? Is she referring to the prayer of the mystic (which I suspect), or the liturgical prayer of the church?

For my part, I know much more about sinning than I do about prayer, and it's not the sin that keeps me from prayer, rather it is the discouragement. It's the, "Dammit! Here I go again," reflex that keeps me from the prayer room. 

Recently, I received a very kind email from a parishioner who was pleased for a consistent crop of sermons on grace. I thanked her for the kind words and then honestly replied that I preached grace because I need it so badly. I suspect that this came as no shock to her, however, since I have been her pastor for ten years. 

I am often confronted with people who have deep scars from sin (which I define as living for self and to hell with everyone else). They would like to pray, they say, but they cannot believe they are good enough to be heard, or they do not believe that prayer could matter for them. I try to reassure them that heaven is in fact not far away, but as someone has said, "it is easier to believe the bad stuff."

So, for those so down that prayer holds no hope, I consistently practice praying for them while they listen. I recite to God -- and to them -- the elements of our conversation, knowing by experience that prayer is truly the only path to existential wholeness, and hoping that someone is doing the same for me.