Esther C:12, 14-16, 23-25
Seeking, Asking, Knocking,
In my youth I had a very genuine gift of prayer. Anything I asked for I got.—-Anything! I remember an itinerant missionary priest came to our parish in my preadolescent years and preached a parish mission. Even though I was perhaps ten years old I remember him saying that God says "yes" to every one of our prayers. He gave four impediments to this "yes" which I committed to memory and ended up writing down on a 3 x 5 card. Over the next 30 years I discover how God does truly say "yes" to everything I ever asked. Moreover, I also discovered that God delights in my saying "yes".
Since my ordination I discovered a "hierarchy" that some live by. People frequently ask me to pray for them, not because of my gift of prayer, but because I am a priest. There are always those who believe that God hears the prayers of priests, religious sisters or brothers, before hearing their own prayers. In this mindset the priest is above the laity, the bishop is above the priest, the pope is above the bishop. If we continue this, then above the pope we have the communion of saints, Mary, Jesus, and finally at the top is God our Father. The rationale, seems to me that people expect God to answer my prayers because I am closer to God in the hierarchical order. The image I’m left with is that of launching paper airplanes. It is almost as if we write our prayers on the wings of paper airplanes and toss them upwards so that somehow our prayer will get high enough and closer to God. Perhaps someone higher up will receive this paper airplane and toss it up to a new level. And somehow if this prayer gets high enough, God just might be able to hear it. This really is a frequently used image but the problem with it is that it neglects the authority of Christ and the beauty of the incarnation. The incarnation is Christ saying, "I dwell in your midst!" It is the Christmas story. When we continue to perceive God as being distant or at the top of the hierarchical chain how lonely our spiritual life must be.
In the first reading Esther would not have a chance of God hearing her prayer if she believed in the hierarchical chain. She was a woman living in a patriarchal world. She was outside of the chosen land. She did not quote the Torah nor did she follow the prayer formula. What she does is she speaks directly to God out of her desperation and she trusts. And God heard her!!!
One of the things life has taught me is that if I focus my eyes to hear and listen to how the birds sing then I become attuned to the numerous varieties of songs, rhythms and chirps. When I spend considerable time drawing and sketching that I begin to see lines and shading in the world around me that is always there just beyond my daily perceptions. If I focus my attention to how God answers my prayers, then I become attuned to how God truly participates in my asking, seeking, and knocking. Indeed, we all choose those things in life which we focus on. Perhaps a good exercise for this Lenten season is to be more attentive to God’s "Yes". As I began seeing how God truly answers prayers, my enlightened understanding causes faith and trust to grow. And Lent has become a time of greater spiritual growth.
Oh, and by the way, what were those four impediments to God’s "yes" which I wrote on that 3 x 5 index card when I was only 10 years old? Selfishness, serious sin, wait, and of course, God’s way not my way. To expound on these four, prayers are frequently not answered when the motivation is selfish or when there is serious sin. Frequently God may say, "Wait, now is not the right time". And lastly, we have to be open to allow God to answer our prayers in the way which is best for us not necessarily in the way we want them answered.
My prayer for you today is that through your asking, seeking, and knocking you may grow in your awareness of God’s delightful, "Yes" in your life.
Fr. David Colhour, C.P. is on the staff at Christ the King Passionist Retreat Center, Citrus Heights, California.