I’ve been gestating, for a long time, a thorough, seething rant about the effects of cultural romanticism on Christian faith. I don’t have time to vent it all this evening — it involves the premise that faith and worship should make you feel good, the notion that everyone’s ideas about religion are equally sound, the arationality of religion, the premise that anything rebellious or heterodox is likely to be truer than anything settled or orthodox, to name but a few of these canards (the creed of the cult of the prophet St. Dan Brown) — but that jeremiad was on my mind as I prepared today’s sermon for the Feast of St Teresa of Avila (which I’ll post in the “extended” section).
I’ll rest with the note that romantic religion makes teaching practically impossible; romantically-conditioned audiences already know everything they need to, they are predisposed not simply to question but to disbelieve authority, and they may expect that anything that doesn’t warm their hearts doesn’t matter. Romanticist theological thought represents the triumph of self-justifying ignorance over diligence, reflection, and discernment.
(Good thing I’m not cutting loose with the real rant.)
Feast of St Teresa of Avila
Rom 8:22-27/Ps 42:1-7/Matt 5:13-16
October 12, 2005
We ourselves. . . groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
Long minutes, long hours, lonely and frustrating days – days of prayer. Prayer can be a hard job, which explains some part of why it’s often difficult to persuade people to give it a try, and why even here, the chapel is not entirely full day by day. Prayer costs us the illusion that we can do it all, and that the universe rotates around us. Prayer draws us away from tackling the world on the terms we set, and draws us toward a willingness to meet God on God’s terms. Prayer demands that we offer all, but prayer promises us nothing. That, my friends, is a sucker’s bet, and it’s hard to invite people you care about to be fleeced – all the more difficult if perhaps, maybe, sometimes you aren’t absolutely convinced that this prayer business makes any difference your own self.
As if that weren’t enough, somebody has cooked up the notion that even after the first fruits blossom, prayer ought to be easy: a sweet, comforting, restorative balm for our troubled souls. While I can’t rule out the chance that prayer operates that way for some favored souls, what I’ve heard about prayer runs almost entirely the opposite direction. Somewhere, the green lawns of suburbia surround cozy homes with happily active, prosperous nuclear families, where hurricanes never blow, where earthquakes never shake, where the maid never misses a day and the meaning of debt is unknown. Somewhere prayer always comes easily, and always delights; somewhere, but probably not Pakistan or Guatemala, New Orleans, and definitely not Ávila.
We can’t make prayer easier by some clever technique, as though it were all in the wrist action, or as though it just depended on knowing the right words. Difficulty lies at the heart of prayer, as the whole creation moans and stammers along with us as we labor to focus our attention on God to open our wills to God’s direction. Tedium and vexation accompany us as we wait with impatience to make a way out of our homelessness in a hobbling, heartless world into a shelter prepared for us from the foundation of the earth.
Hard circumstances make hard prayer, and when those hard praying times come your way, remember that you are not alone. When your soul is full of heaviness, when your arid prayer bores and frustrates you, bear in mind that others have found themselves in that desert before you. At those times, you know I will be praying with you, this chapel will be praying with you; Santa Teresa y todos los santos will be praying with you. The whole creation will strain and groan along with your heart. The Spirit itself will intercede with sighs too deep for words – and with the work that you devote to prayer, the Spirit will work along to draw us more faithfully together, to shape our hearts to welcome the truth, to kindle in us the light by which our praying eyes recognize, in the communion of our faithful friends and reconciled enemies, in constant prayer, in labor that takes delight in serving and sharing, the patient, sweet, brilliant glory of God.