I am back. Unwillingly, but back.
I’ve just spent four days in prayer, and to be honest, I don’t much want to leave that oasis. I could stay there forever. The wonderful thing is that one day I will get to stay there forever, and do it for real.
Have you ever noticed how good we are at imagining hell? Our movies, poetry, sermons seem to find it easy to foresee hell. We can go lurid in our imaginings, complete with exploding flames and blackened demons carrying pitchforks. Or we can imagine a hell of desperate longing and isolation, of confusion and inner pain. However we imagine hell, we seem to find it easy to do.
But heaven eludes us. Our movie depictions of heaven usually amount to semi-comedic ramblings in foggy terrain before the real action back on earth gets started. Try as we might, we cannot come up with a scenario of child-like innocence and bliss in which we are filled with ecstatic love.
I think hell is an easy imagine for us because we get repeated foretastes of it in our here and now. If you don’t believe in the devil just turn on any news channel and you’ll see his work.
If they aren’t reporting how some individual human being has channeled the devil in an especially destructive way, they will be talking about the hellish lies and selfishness of other human beings who pose as our leaders in politics, religion and business.
Failing that, just pause for a moment and listen to the malice and hatred in what these news commentators are saying. It doesn’t matter if they are on the right or the left, their trade is inciting hatred in each of us who listen to them. It’s how they engender ratings, how they make money. It’s what they do.
Hell is all around us in this life. Hell and evil is a man who beats and abuses his family. Hell is a mother or father who deserts their children. Hell is the rapist and sexual predator. Hell is lies, slander and gossip. Hell is the many acts of petty malice we inflict on one another for the pleasure and satisfaction it gives us to hurt them.
Hell, as Sartre said, is other people.
Or it can be.
It’s easy for us to imagine hell because we live our days in a world where our enemy the devil is active. He is, as St Peter said, prowling around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.
That statement is especially powerful coming as it does from the man whom Jesus told, Satan has demanded to have you, that he may sift you like wheat, the man who denied Christ in His hour of greatest need.St Peter knew satan as well as Jesus. He understood that while we are in this world, we are vulnerable to satan’s wiles.
We find it easy to imagine hell. We have trouble imagining heaven.
But heaven is just as much manifest in this world as hell. Cuddling your own sweet baby or grandchild is heaven. Snuggling with your only spouse in a warm bed on a cold night is heaven. Working with concentration and flow on a craft you love is heaven.
Heaven is music. Heaven is the many flavors of good food and the smell of roses. Heaven is home, family, freedom and safety.
Heaven, like hell, is other people.
Our foretaste of heaven is most potent when we pray and God reaches down and curls his hand around us. Heaven is curling up in the palm of God’s hand and floating there in a peace that truly does pass all understanding.
If you do not take time to withdraw from the world and just be with Him, you are cheating yourself of a little bit of heaven. You will unfit yourself for His work in this world if you do not spend time with Him.
Faith is not an act of the will. It is not a leap of reason. Faith is a relationship. Corporate worship can be wonderful. The Eucharist is a sure and certain source of healing and grace.
But nothing can replace alone time with the Lord and the graces of simple prayer.
Set time aside to pray. I don’t mean just praying at night before bed and in the morning when you get up. These are good. But every so often, come to a full stop and spend days in contemplation and openness to Him.
Not everyone has this luxury. There are times in most people’s lives when work or illness so acute that it blots out all else must be their prayer.
That makes it even more incumbent on those of us who can take time for concentrated prayer to pause and do it. We need to fold these ones who are too sick or too busy working in this world into our hearts and lift them up to the Lord.
Pray for other people.
Pray for yourself.
Pray for this world and this nation.
Pray for those lost in sin.
Pray for those who suffer injustice and cruelty.
Pray about your fears and your sorrows.
Pray for courage.
Pray for peace.
Pray for understanding and direction.
Then just be with Him and float in His Presence. Prayer isn’t always or even mostly words. It is first and foremost companionship with our Source.