Friday, February 17, 2017

Saints and Prayer

“The usual notion of prayer is so absurd. How can those who know nothing about it, who pray little or not at all, dare speak so frivolously of prayer? A Carthusian, a Trappist will work for years to make of himself a man of prayer, and then any fool who comes along sets himself up as judge of this lifelong effort. If it were really what they suppose, a kind of chatter, the dialogue of a madman with his shadow, or even less—a vain and superstitious sort of petition to be given the good things of this world, how could innumerable people find until their dying day, I won't even say such great 'comfort'—since they put no faith in the solace of the senses—but sheer, robust, vigorous, abundant joy in prayer? Oh, of course—suggestion, say the scientists. Certainly they can never have known old monks, wise, shrewd, unerring in judgement, and yet aglow with passionate insight, so very tender in their humanity. What miracle enables these semi-lunatics, these prisoners of their own dreams, these sleepwalkers, apparently to enter more deeply each day into the pain of others? An odd sort of dream, an unusual opiate which, far from turning him back into himself and isolating him from his fellows, unites the individual with mankind in the spirit of universal charity!

This seems a very daring comparison. I apologise for having advanced it, yet perhaps it might satisfy many people who find it hard to think for themselves, unless the thought has first been jolted by some unexpected, surprising image. Could a sane man set himself up as a judge of music because he has sometimes touched a keyboard with the tips of his fingers? And surely if a Bach fugue, a Beethoven symphony leave him cold, if he has to content himself with watching on the face of another listener the reflected pleasure of supreme, inaccessible delight, such a man has only himself to blame.

But alas! We take the psychiatrists' word for it. The unanimous testimony of saints is held as of little or no account. They may all affirm that this kind of deepening of the spirit is unlike any other experience, that instead of showing us more and more of our own complexity it ends in sudden total illumination, opening out upon azure light—they can be dismissed with a few shrugs. Yet when has any man of prayer told us that prayer had failed him?”
~Georges Bernanos

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