14 December 2016

On Prayer and Glorifying God

[[Dear Sister I was taught that prayer involves a number of forms including adoration, contemplation, thanksgiving and supplication. My pastor taught me the acronym ACTS to help me remember this. But I read a Catholic hermit saying the following [[ . . . Praising God is different from praying, as praising asks for nothing from God but rather gives God sole glory.]] I have no way of asking her about this statement since she has no contact information on her blog but I wondered if Catholic hermits have a different way of understanding prayer than my pastor so I am asking you.]]

Thanks for your question. Wow. To be frank, I would be surprised to hear any Catholic say such a thing, no matter their state of life or vocation. That's because the acronym you cited is often taught to elementary school kids as a way of remembering the main forms of prayer and to help them understand the way they are to give their whole selves to God in prayer. We all have heard homilies using this acronym from time to time when the readings reference the nature or the importance of prayer. I think I may have been taught this in the late sixties when I was taking instruction to become a Catholic. (By the way, I have heard it presented with "c= confession" rather than contemplation and I will speak of it that way here. I think contemplation would then fit under "Adoration".)

In either case it is important to remember that all prayer or worship is always the work of God within us. The corollary is that we are made and yearn for this to be more and more real in our lives so that we may become our truest selves! Our hearts are theological realities first of all; "heart" is defined in the TDNT,** for instance, as the place within us where God bears witness to Godself. Once we are aware that as we come to God and allow God to work in us in our minds and hearts and as we allow God to transform us in times of need,  joy,  reflectiveness, and love, we also come to be our truest selves, we begin to understand the deepest truth of prayer, namely that prayer is less something we do than it is something we are called to become by allowing God to witness to Godself in the whole of our lives.

The term we use for allowing God to dwell in us and witness to Godself is "glorifying" God. We glorify God when we reveal him to the world. And here it is critical to remember that reveal means not only to make known, but also to make real in space and time. We glorify God when we allow God to become incarnate in us, when we let him transform us into the imago Christi (image of Christ) we are made to become, when, in other words we pray and allow ourselves to become prayer. We are grateful in this way and it is an act of adoration and confession as well. To put this in theological terms we could say that when we allow God to be God in this way we become speech ACTS, language events whose essential nature is divinely motivated and shaped.

Hermits are contemplatives not only because it is a primary form of prayer for us, but because it reflects the way of life we have embraced and cultivated.  In truth hermits have embraced a way of life which involves a number of types of prayer every day precisely because it is contemplative; thus, it is a life of gratitude and praise, a life where we try to be essentially attentive and open ourselves so that the God who dwells deep within, may "come to us", "dwell within us" more fully (more extensively and effectively) to complete us as the covenant persons we are meant to be. As this happens we become instances of praise --- instances of profound prayer. In my eremitical life I don't ask God for much in the sense of plying him with lists of things I need or desire. That is not to say I do not have such things, I definitely do. But in the main my single prayer is ordinarily a prayer that is an opening of self to the One who would be with and dwell more fully within me to empower, encourage, and celebrate with me. When I am feeling particularly needy the form that prayer takes is, "O God come to my assistance, O Lord make haste to help me." But at other times the form that prayer takes is simply, "Thanks be to God." In my best moments then, prayer is a single act of praise which involves all of the things referred to in the acronym A.C.T.S. but above all it is an act of praise, an act in which God is most truly glorified.

Should I not call this prayer --- as the source you cited seems to imply? Of course I should. Again, at bottom prayer is the work of God attended to and embraced in the various modes and moods of human existence: adoration (the times we simply love God and all that is precious to God); confession (the times and ways we, empowered by the God of truth, say who we really are and what values we embody whether this is verbal or non-verbal and whether it represents us in our strength and integrity or our weakness, brokenness, and falseness); thanksgiving (all the times and ways we act by the grace of God with wonder, attentiveness and gratitude for the gifts of life and the Source and Ground of Life); and supplication (all of those times we especially turn to God in need, in our poverty, in our incompleteness and our desire for union). In each of these we turn to the God who is already present and active within us seeking him to become even more present and active and we do so only by the grace (or powerful presence) of God. In each of these ways and moments we PRAY and become prayer. In each of these ways and moments we glorify God.

** TDNT = Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, The TDNT is a ten volume work including the significant words of the New Testament; it provides detailed presentations of the different linguistic, theological, and cultural contexts of each word by looking at OT, intertestamental, and extratestmental literature as well as at the Greek and other important literature bearing on the meaning of these words. The definition of heart provided above is from the article on καρδια (kardia).