Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. May the Blessed Virgin Mary, St Joseph her most chaste spouse, holy Saint Maroun, hermit and physician, and all the blessed angels and saints who stand in adoration before the throne of God, pray for our parents, for our neighbours, for the suffering souls in Purgatory, and for us. So we begin, and so may we conclude. Amen.
Prayer is a conscious turning of the attention to God. In that movement of attention, heart and mind are animated and raised as one. Prayer is a lifting of our souls to an awareness of the divine presence; here, now, and beyond all here and now.
Holy are you, Lord God. Holy are you, and all-powerful. Holy are you, and immortal. God All. God Alone. Unimaginable light. Unimaginable darkness. Have mercy on us.
Sleep, waking and prayer. Each is a world in itself. In sleep we are strictly circumscribed: we have no voluntary movements. Our senses are limited, and our minds are captive to dreams. In waking, we have more freedom: we can move around. Our thoughts are more orderly and manageable. Open to our environments, we can interact with others, and receive impressions. The waking world is infinitely larger than the sleeping.
And the world of prayer surpasses the waking life in the same degree that the waking life transcends the sleeping. In prayer, not only are we open to everything in the world, we are also open to the influence of the supernatural. The purpose of sleep is to refresh us so that we may enjoy healthy lives. The purpose of waking life is that we may come to know, love and serve God. Worship is the highest activity we are capable of, and true prayer always contains an element of worship.
In prayer, our spirit can fit wings to our earthly shoulders and fly, if not to heaven, then at least above the earth. We can receive impressions of a fineness and beauty that nothing on earth can ever give us. When the spirit prays, even words can disappear, just as the stars are invisible when the sun reigns in the sky. A friend of mine, a practical man, and not at all a dreamer, recounted to me the following story, which I retell with his permission:
“An event I can’t forget during my early 20s was when I went alone to a naval base overseas on a technical course. Everything was going against me financially. My luggage was delayed. I couldn’t even purchase a call card because my bank card was inactive. The question in my mind was: “Why me?” After all, I have always been a religious person. So I went for a walk, not knowing where I was going, asking myself this question. Unexpectedly, I found the base chapel illuminated. It was empty. I walked in the door puzzled, feeling very upset and lonely - I had never felt worse in my whole life. I sat inside for a period of time saying nothing at all, not even saying a single prayer. When I got out of the chapel I was full of joy and peace.”
Because it is a contact, and even a quest for contact with God, prayer is always available, whatever we’re doing. Prayer is a world in itself, like life beneath the sea, or life above the ground. While the universe of prayer is here within us, always available, it is the most unexplored territory of all. It’s less travelled than the desert, the Antarctic or the jungles of Borneo.
Yet, we bear the portal to prayer inside of ourselves. We only need to open that door and enter that world. Prayer is not simply an addressing of ourselves to God, it is also an opening of ourselves to him. It is always helped by feeling our smallness, our humble condition before him.
Some times are better for prayer than others. The worst times are “later on”, “tomorrow” and “I should have yesterday”. The perfect time to enter the prayer life is now – right now, whenever I am reminded of it. Even if I have no time to take out my rosary, or to sit or kneel for five minutes, I can still pause for a moment, collect myself for three seconds, centre my attention, call on God, acknowledge his greatness and my weakness, and ask him to help. But if I have indeed prayed, and not just thought about praying, then things won’t be exactly like they had been four second ago: I will have confidence in his reality.
Morning is a natural symbol. Every day, God speaks to us through natural symbols. Cultural symbols, such as flags or alphabets, point beyond themselves. Through God’s natural symbols of day and night, God tells us that life knows a beginning and an end. Each morning announces a fresh start. The dawn tells us to arise and praise God, for he is good, and stands over and above the ever-changing world.
Morning is a perfect time to dedicate the day to him, whatever it may bring, as an unconditional offering. What better than to pray that our beginning may be a good one, and that we may live it worthily. It is a fit time to reflect that we do not know what the day will bring, except that everything which can happen to us must happen in accordance with his laws. The very fact of morning calls us to thank God for preserving us through the night, and for the gift of another day – a present greater than all the treasure that all the rulers of the world could offer. Here is an ancient Syriac hymn, 1,650 years old, which can also be said as a prayer:
The Light of the just and the joy of the upright is Jesus the Messiah, our Lord. Begotten of the Father, he manifested himself to us. He came to rescue us from darkness and to fill us with the radiance of his light.
Day is drawing upon us; the power of darkness is fading away. From the true Light there arises for us the Light which illumines our darkened eyes. His glory shines upon the world and enlightens the very depths of the abyss.
Death is annihilated, night has vanished, and the gates of hell are broken. He brings salvation and grants us life. He ascends to his Father on high. He will return in glorious splendour and shed his light on those gazing upon him.
Our king comes in majestic glory. Let us light our lamps and go forth to meet him. Let us find our joy in him, for he has found joy in us. He will indeed rejoice us with his marvellous light.
The angels and guardians of heaven will rejoice in the glory of the just; crowned with victory, they will sing hymns and psalms. Stand up then and be ready! Give thanks to our king and Saviour, who will come in great glory to gladden us with his marvellous light in his Kingdom.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.
Preparing the Day
It is also a good idea to use our morning prayer to prepare for the day before us. Morning prayer can be an oasis of peace in each and every day. Even if we know there’ll be trouble later on, why should that disturb our prayer? The trouble will be there when we come back. Let it abate for that short period. We won’t suffer.
Part of the reason people let their prayer lives drop is that they don’t see sufficient benefit in prayer. But then, do they try to connect their prayer life with their daily life? Without that connection, how can the benefit flow?
We could rejuvenate our Christian lives each morning. If you don’t know where to begin, make the sign of the cross and ask God to clear your head. Start with a formulated prayer. Here is one, beautifully phrased, this time from the Latin tradition:
Remember, Christian soul, that this day, and every day of your life, you have God to glorify, Jesus to imitate, the angels and saints to invoke, a soul to save, a body to mortify, sins to expiate, virtues to acquire, hell to avoid, heaven to gain, eternity to prepare for, time to profit by, neighbours to edify, the world to despise, devils to combat, passions to subdue, death perhaps to suffer and judgment to undergo.
Use any other prayers you know, and then summon into your mind the likely events of the day. Is there something you’re looking forward to? Something you’re afraid of? Maybe bring that to mind. Where is my Christian duty in that event? Do I have to forget God?
Is it a question of relationships? Is there money involved? Status? Am I worried about how I’ll look? Do I appreciate that the most important thing in my life is my relationship with God, and that no other issues, not relationships, money or anything else need to stand in the way of that? And if suffering cannot be avoided, do I accept to suffer in order to mortify the passions, or to offer atonement for my sins?
Rather than letting the anticipated difficulties ruin our peace, why not let our peace make us better able to deal calmly with the difficulties, robbing them of their power to touch our minds? Part of the problem is that we have seen so much anger, anguish, anxiety and worry that we have a recorded voice in our memories, which tells that we must get upset, that we don’t have the right not to be fearful. But fear is only nature’s means of getting us to move out of harm’s way. Once we’ve done what we can, fear serves no purpose.
Conversely, if it is something I am looking forward to, will I forget God, in my happiness? Success can be a great trap: we can too easily become self-satisfied, even puffed up and proud. Morning prayer can be a time to contemplate our pleasant expectations in a peaceful light, and to thank God for them.
So never let your state of mind put you off your prayers. Let your prayers change your state of mind. Let each morning be a morning of prayer, a morning of peace. Amen.
This was written by a priest of the Maronite Church. Of your mercy, please pray for him.