The Principle Of Prayer


"Prayer becomes second nature."

The whole principle of prayer rests upon readiness to follow God's will. On no other terms can prayer properly develop. In its every aspect this has to be recognized. Even the prayer of petition, which at first sight looks like an attempt to change God's will, must show a willingness to accept the outcome or it is not so much an act of prayer as of superstition. In making our request we do not impose our will upon God's will, doing our best to shape his plan to suit our own, but, by implication anyway, dispose ourselves to receive whatever he sends.

The so-called answered prayer is not an example of God giving in when his will was to do something else. It does not represent a triumph of human pleading. If a prayer is answered in the way we hoped it would be, according to specifications submitted, this is because God suggested it and arranged the form it was to take. Prayer is never a means by which God's will is brought down to the level of our own; rather it is a means by which our will is raised so that it coincides with his.

As a result we shall frequently find our requests denied. But if grace is working in us as it should be we shall at the same time find ourselves increasingly ready to meet our frustration. In the case of the saint the disposition is one of constant surrender to God's will in whatever way it happens to turn out. Instinctive resistance is no obstacle. The only obstacle is deliberate refusal. Our Lord himself was subject to a natural shrinking from the Father's will at the passion, but in no way did this lessen the surrender. Indeed it added to the perfection of the surrender.

By praying in such a way, training the will in acceptance, souls can arrive at an almost habitual recognition of God's presence. Where every new event in the day is seen as a manifestation of God's providence there will be an increasing awareness of supernatural reality in general and of God's loving concern in particular. Prayer becomes not only the obligation due from the creature to the creator but an opportunity of communication.

People who are sincerely looking for God's will in their lives are at the same time growing accustomed to a prayer not found in books. Their prayer will be informal, indeed formless, and spontaneous. Though not compulsive---except possibly on occasions when the stirring of grace is strongly felt--prayer becomes second nature. God's presence is felt to be the background against which the affairs of life take place.

An activity can be second nature without being automatic. If prayer were automatic, a reflex requiring no deliberation, there would be no value to it. It would not be an act of the will. For the exercise of faith, hope, and love there must be an engagement of the will. Prayer is essentially, though not necessarily in explicit terms at any given exercise, an expression of the soul's faith, hope, and love.

From Ideas for Prayer 1966, Templegate Publishers. Fr. Dom Hubert van Zeller, a monk of Downside Abbey, England, is the author of many books.