“But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.” — Matthew 6:6
As I write this reflection, I’m anticipating the arrival of fall, my favorite of the four seasons. When I was a kid, I associated fall with the excitement of new beginnings: another grade in school, new jeans, thoughts about what might be—no disappointments yet; still just promise, along with mounds of leaves, dry and brittle, for me to dive into. Such fun to hear them crackle as they crumbled beneath me on the cold ground.
This year those memories, once again, return to my mind, except with a twist: now, it is my prayer life that is dry and brittle. And I find that Matthew 6:6, a verse that I have heard many times, has become a recurring thought when, every morning, I go into our sitting room (my inner room) to sit for my daily, contemplative prayer. I repeat my mantra, yet thoughts distract me. Rarely do I experience comfort or anything I might call a spiritual awakening. It worries me.
Benedict of Nursia, whose Rule is my guide to life’s challenges and joys of the day, speaks clearly to my prayer task: “Listen and attend with the ear of your heart.” I try, truly I do, but it is many times a task too difficult to master.
The Catechism of my Catholic faith states clearly, “one makes time for the Lord, with the firm determination not to give up, no matter what trials and dryness one may encounter.” (CCC 2726)
Ok, but how?
Currently, I’m reading the novel, The Oblate’s Confession, by William Peak. In Chapter 21, the oblate confesses to a hermit who lives near the abbey that his prayer life has gone dry. The hermit nods and then spins the wisdom that I needed to hear in this fall season of brittle leaves and prayer:
“You think it’s not working, empty, dry,” he says.… “It’s the secret writing. The quiet messages God has placed on our souls during those moments….” “To persevere” he said, “that’s the important thing.”
The hermit gives me hope.
And that combination – to persevere and to hope – brings to mind these words of St. Paul: “Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)
I can take that to my “inner room” and pray with renewed humility that the “suffering” of my brittle fall prayer life is, in fact, bearing the fruits of perseverance, character, and hope. And what better time to bring in that harvest than in my favorite season of the year.