Jesus went up on the mountain to pray.
What does “prayer” mean to you? It can include recite familiar prayers like the Rosary. Other forms of recited prayer might include the Divine Mercy Chaplet or whatever your favorite devotion is.
Do you think this is what Jesus did when He prayed?
In reflecting on what it means to pray, we are told that Jesus “went up the mountain to pray.” Why a mountain? We think of God being up in the heavens so going up the mountain was seen as getting closer to God. The whole point of prayer is to draw us closer to God. Prayer can be a conversation with God.
Our first reading today is a conversation Abraham (Abram) had with God. God had promised Abraham that he would have an heir. Abraham wondered how this was to be since both he and his wife were old. Ultimately, Abraham “put his faith in the LORD.” He trusted God because he knew that God loved him and would keep his promise.
Near the end of the passage we read, “a trance fell upon Abram, and a deep, terrifying darkness enveloped him.” Some might call this a mystical presence. Whatever you call it, it was a profound encounter with God that strengthened Abraham.
We hear in the psalm today, “Your presence, O LORD, I seek.” Is not the greatest gift we can receive simply know that God is with us?
What difficult situation have you faced lately? Our first prayer in suffering can (and should) be to ask God to take it away. In this, perhaps the most common prayer is telling God what we want. Is prayer just a matter of giving God a list of our demands?
Now, imagine your most recent difficult situation again. You asked God to take it away. God said no. What might be the next thing you ask for in prayer?
Do you ask to know that God walks with you in the difficult situation?
Abraham knew that God was there for him. That is why he “put his faith in the LORD.” Turning to the gospel, Jesus had just told his disciples about his coming Passion. He knew they were troubled by what He told them and that they would be even more troubled when it actually happened. To give them “divine assurance,” He took Peter, James, and John with him so they could see him transfigured, so that they would see his glory. They also say Moses and Elijah with him to show them that He is the fulfillment of the law.
The experience of seeing Jesus transfigured left Peter not knowing “what he was saying.” Think of your greatest experience of God. Can you find works to adequately describe it or does it seem like no words can describe it? It is the experience that can be most key to know that God is with us.
Thus, prayer has at its heart our desire to open ourselves to God’s love.
Prayer can come in three parts. First is spoken prayer. This could be either the recited prayers I mentioned before or the list of our needs we offer to God. The purpose of “reciting” prayers isn’t to say we did it. It’s to draw us closer to the Lord. The point of listing our needs to God isn’t to tell him our demands. It should be to tell him where we feel we need him most.
A second category of prayer is “mediation.” This can include recited prayers if we move from just saying the words to thinking about what the story behind the words means to us. Here one might think of meditating on the mysteries of the rosary as thinking about the important moments of Jesus’ life and what they mean for us.
Mediation can also include reading the Bible but I’m not talking about reading it like any other book. Meditation means to read a few words or lines while pausing to think about what it means for us.
A third category of prayer is contemplative prayer. For me, this can be both the most rewarding form of prayer and the most difficult. It can be difficult because it requires us to stop thinking. It isn’t about reciting words or meditating upon spiritual writings. Contemplative prayer calls us to let go of all our thoughts. This form of prayer is less about conversation with God and more about simply basking in his presence.
Think of when Peter saw Jesus transfigured. He tried to find words to describe what he saw. Contemplative prayer says don’t worry about the words. Just enjoy the moment.
The problem with contemplative prayer is that you can’t make it happen. If you try to sit there all day and force it to happen, it won’t. I can’t give you a lesson here about it but here are some basic thoughts. It means letting go. If you read about centering prayer (a type of contemplative prayer), it recommends twenty minutes at a time but NEVER start with 20 minutes. Start with just a couple of minutes after your normal prayer. Let the thoughts go. Find a word as simple as the name “Jesus” to repeat over and over to surrender yourself to the moment.
The goal of prayer is to open ourselves to God, to let God lead the conversation. Only then can we be transfigured by the experiences we have in prayer. It is only when we stop dictating the conversation in prayer that we truly open ourselves to know that God is with him and we put our faith in the Lord.