How could we love God (6)

15-12-2011 10:12 AM

Pope Shenouda III


We can love God through prayers
   How were the saints## prayers?  
   Continual prayer leads to God##s love. If we love God we will pray, and if we pray God##s love will increase and get deeper day after day. As we like to talk to those whom we love, we likewise ought to pray, because prayer is the talk with God.


   Through prayer one will learn how to pray, that is, how to talk with God in a way that leads to His love.
   Through continual prayers one will reach the depth of each word uttered and will be attached to God more and more. One will find intimacy in talking with Him and desire to talk with Him. In this way prayer will teach a person God##s love.


   However, at the beginning of the exercise your prayer may not be with love.
   Therefore start prayer even against you will, by forcing yourself to pray. Try to meditate, or at least understand every word in the prayer, for the saints did not reach the prayer of love from the beginning but gradually till they reached perfection as far as the grace granted them and as far as they had emotions and readiness.


   Try then to make your prayers emotional and with understanding.
   A routine prayer will not bring you to God##s love, as St. Paul the Apostle says, “I would rather speak five words with my understanding … than ten thousand words in a tongue.” (1 Cor 14: 19) You ought to utter every word in your prayer with sense and understanding, from the depth of your heart, like one speaking to his love or to his friend. But what if you do not have such feelings?


   Say to Him, Grant me: O Lord, to love You!  
   It is the prayer which the Spiritual Elderly Father used to give as an advice. Say to Him, “Teach me, O Lord, how to love You. Train me in Your love. Bring me through step by step towards Your love. Pour Your love in my heart by the Holy Spirit.”


   Say to Him: “Remove from my heart every other love conflicting with Your love, so that the whole heart may become Yours. Do not let me love anything or anyone more than You. Let not any lust or desire compete Your love in my heart.”


   Let nothing occupy me or rule over my heart except Your love.
   Let Your love lead my steps and mix completely with my acts, my words, and my feelings.


   Grant me, O Lord, the desire to talk with You and to find pleasure in continual prayer.
   If your love cools, pray Him to restore to it its fervor. Say to Him: O Lord, You said, “I have this against you, that you have left your first love,” (Rev 2: 4) how then can I restore my first love except through You?! It is You who can restore to me Your love. It is You, O Lord, who restores me and I will be restored (Jer 31: 18). It is You who gives me the fervor of spirit, because You are a consuming fire (Heb 12: 29).


   Speak to the Lord in this way in your prayer, so that your tongue may get used to it.
   If a person wants for instance to learn a certain language, he has to speak it frequently even if he is not able to speak it well. Through frequent talking his tongue will get used till it becomes easy for him to speak it well. You ought to do the same whenever you talk with God. Let your tongue get used to talk with Him, and train yourself to speak with Him with emotions and love.


   Among the beautiful examples of love prayers is the prayer of praises.
   In these prayers one meditates on God##s attributes while talking with Him. An example is the short prayer of “O my Lord Jesus Christ, my Good Savior”. This short prayer includes the details of the soul##s relationship with God. Another example is the Trisagion, as well as many prayers of the Liturgy of St. Gregory.


   Say to Him in your prayer, “O Lord, You are Good and kind. You are longsuffering. Many a time did You suffer me long while I was away from You! Many a time did You give me the chance to return to You! Many a time did You forgive me and did not deal with me according to my sins, O forgiving and loving Lord!


   Speak to the Lord frankly and open your heart to Him.
   Say to Him: Lord, I want to love You, but a certain sin hinders my way to You and rules over my heart. I tried to avoid it, but in vain. Give me the power to keep away from it, because without You I can do nothing (Jn 15: 5). Deliver me from this sin, not because I want to be saved from its punishment, but because I want the hindrance that prevents me from Your love be removed away.


   Speak with God in love as David used to do in his Psalms.
   Say to Him as David said, “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God … When shall I come and appear before God?” “I will lift up my hands in Your name. My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness.” “Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day.” (Ps 42: 1, 2; 63; 119)


   Use words of love in your prayers, and repeat them till your heart and tongue get used to them, and say: “My heart and tongue praise the Holy One.”


   In addition to the Psalms and the Hours Prayers, keep your private prayers in which you open your heart to God and speak to Him about all your affairs, your feelings, your thoughts, your wars, your weaknesses, your problems, and your failures. Seek His counsel and help, and ask Him to give you power and blessing. Do not compose certain thoughts or words or feeling, but express yourself as you truly are. Remember that the Lost Son went to Him with his dirty clothes of work with the swine. Ask Him to grant you to love Him as a free gift from Him.      


   Ask Him not to deprive you from His love.
   See how the saints used to pray, and how their love appeared in their prayers. They talked to God with their hearts even with silent tongues! The Spiritual Father therefore said: “Silence your tongue that your heart may speak, and silence your heart that God may speak!” Their prayers were like exchanged talk with God through their hearts. While talking with Him, they heard His voice within their hearts!


   They used to go deep into every word they utter and found pleasure in every word to the extent that because of the sweetness of the word on their mouths they wished not to move to another word!!
   What a big difference between this way of prayer and what people do, praying without understanding what they say, or praying in a hurry that they may return to their involvements!!


   Because of the sweetness of their attachment to God the saints never wanted to conclude their prayers and their beautiful talk with God with all its deep influence on their souls.
   The time of prayer was to them a time of spiritual enjoyment at which the soul swims outside the sphere of the body and material.


   Their pleasure was in prayer, or, in more accurate words, in the communion with God during the time of prayer. For such spiritual pleasure they forsook the world with everything in it so that they might be wholly free from any occupation and enjoy God##s presence with them.
   They often forgot themselves and everything around, as happened to St. John the Short, who once the camel driver came to him to carry away the baskets he made for sale, but whenever the saint entered his cell to bring them he forgot the baskets and started prayer!


   God usually endowed those saints with a spiritual state during prayer which made them unaware whether they were in the body or not!
   This happened to St. Paul the Apostle (2 Cor 12: 2, 3). They sometimes enjoyed spiritual visions or entered into deep ecstasy or found themselves occupied with the words of prayer, without any interference from them. They could not stop prayer nor wanted to do. This is perhaps what the Spiritual Elderly Father meant by “let your heart speak”.


   They enjoyed a flood of spiritual meanings that occurred to their minds, which they never thought of before. Every phrase had a new meaning in every prayer, and they said with David the Prophet, “Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from Your law.” (Ps 119)


   Their prayers turned into love, and love into intimacy, and intimacy into spiritual enjoyment.
   In this enjoyment they wished to stay forever like the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration saying, “Lord, it is good for us to be here!” (Mk 9: 5). This usually happens when one is in a certain spiritual state of love, emotion, understanding, whole involvement, and sensual and intellectual death to everything around! This reminds us of St. John of Assiut when asked what spiritual prayer is, he answered that it is death to the world.


   Their minds often were taken away during prayer, so they preferred to pray while alone in their cells.
   They wanted no one to see their emotions during prayer or know what occupied their minds, what visions or ecstasy they experienced, or what deep love overwhelmed their senses. To them shall apply the words of the bride in the Song, “I am lovesick.” (Song 2: 5)


   What about you, brother? If you have not yet attained anything, my advice to you will be:
   Hold to the Lord as far as you can during prayer. Try to avoid distraction and to concentrate on the words of the prayer and wrap them with your feelings and emotions. And whenever the prayer is about to end try to continue, and say to the Lord, “Stay with me, O Lord.”


   Try to go sometimes beyond requests
   Train yourself in such a love prayer to have God as your only request, as David the Prophet says, “Your face, Lord, I will seek. Do not hide Your face from me.” (Ps 27: 9)


   Such a prayer is an expression of love.
   Take God as a Friend, a Protector and a Guide. If you are aware that you cannot dispense with God##s love for a moment or a twinkling of an eye, the love which is in your heart will be revealed in your prayer.
   We shall continue our meditations on this subject next week, God willing.

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