When We Pray – Common Threads in Prayer

September 4, 2015 |

WhenWePray_edited-COMMONthreadsSpiritual writers of old, whether monks, mystics, hermits, founders of religious orders, no matter what the age or period of history, have some underlying common threads in their views on prayer. In Installment 8, I begin to list some of these.

Common Threads in Prayer

Prayer demands that a person be recollected. Being recollected means being gathered within oneself; it means a deepening of one’s realization of what it means to be a true, and active Christian. Prayer is Christological and incarnational. It is of this earth and about this earth, and about the Christ who daily roams this earth seeking to make contact with the praying person. We are called to be ‘earthy mystics’ and not some other- worldly beings. Persons like Augustine, Francis of Assisi, Oscar Romero, Teresa of Calcutta, all see prayer, therefore, as leading to some action among God’s people. Pastorally, their lives exhibited this. They saw the face of God in those to whom they ministered. Once this participatory action is realized, then, one can go out to meet other people and to respond to them as Jesus did and would. If one is to be a person of prayer, it is imperative that one takes the posture or attitude of openness, an ‘active’ listening to God as He works in one’s inner life. Through prayer one tries to discover the Holy Other as God really is. This means that discovering God’s mind, discovering that His desires are important so that we can make our desires consonant with His. Desires can go wrong. Walter Conn points out:
…the fundamental desire of the self is to transcend itself in relationship to the world, to others, to God. But only a developed, powerful self has the strength to realize significant transcendence. My approach, therefore, recognizes two focal points in the fundamental human desire: the drive to be a self, a center of strength; and the dynamism to move beyond the self in relationship…the desiring self includes both elements…the desire to be a self and to reach out beyond the self must always be understood together.


1. What is the best way in which you recollect yourself before entering into personal prayer?
2. How and in what way does your prayer lead you to action in life? Point to some examples?
3. What is this ‘active’ listening in prayer? How would you describe it to a beginner or novice?
4. Where, in your experience, have you seen manifested your ‘desires’ as being in union with those of God, Christ, the Trinity?

Ivan Cormac Marsh
Fr. Ivan Cormac Marsh has worked extensively in ministry on the parish, university, retreat center and seminary levels. He has a doctorate in the area of spirituality and ministry and lectures on spiritual direction in the United States and Canada. He lives in Tucson, AZ.
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