As the more frequent readers of this blog have no doubt noticed, my fellow blogger Mike McCann signs his posts with a beautiful phrase I thought should receive some attention – Pray without ceasing.
Thank you, Mike, for reminding us in such a consistent way about this command that is both enigmatic and yet essential to each of our spiritual journeys with God.
This phrase, originally found in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, has been a big question in my own life. How can one pray without ceasing when they’re busy just living? How is it humanly possible to remember to pray at every moment? Learning how to live out St. Paul’s words continues to be a slow journey. One thing that has been helping me recently, however, has been a realization that perhaps I’m coming at it from the wrong angle: maybe it’s a lot less like thinking, and a lot more like breathing.
The word “aspiration” comes from the Latin aspirare, “to breathe upon” (see catholicism.about.com). Aspiration prayers are brief phrases one can breathe out to God throughout the day – phrases such as “Jesus Christ, Son of David, have mercy on me, a sinner,” or, “O God, come to my assistance.” In the sixth chapter of her book, Discovering the Feminine Genius, Katrina Zeno writes about a form of prayer that makes use of aspirations. The name she gives this approach is the “Prayer of the Moment,” and it exists in the context of a Spousal relationship with God. The more we realize that Christ, our true Spouse, makes all things act for the purpose of further union with Him, the more we come to see everything – dishwashing, commuting to work, and so forth – as an interaction with Him and an inspiration to little prayers throughout the day. In washing dishes, for example, one might pray, “Lord, wash me,” or might offer up the work in union with the Divine Spouse’s work of Redemption to save souls.
St. Therese applies the aspiration prayer in a similar way. She has famously said: “For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and love, embracing both trial and joy” (CCC 2558). Her “Little Way” of doing ordinary things with extraordinary love can be seen as an outgrowth of this aspiration-form prayer. Loving with an extraordinary love means constantly asking God to love through you, because it’s impossible to do it by your own strength; it also means loving God through others, as they are His temples and made in His image. Her story in the Story of a Soul (p.130-131 in the Tan edition) of her struggle with loving a difficult fellow sister illustrates this beautifully – go ahead, read it and be inspired!
What other answers have you all found to this question of praying without ceasing? If you have any other suggestions or stories, feel free to comment below! I would love to know what has helped you in your journeys.