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  • Writer's pictureDr. Anthony Lilles

Contemplative Prayer in Crisis

Worried eyes peer above a mask in a supermarket while customers attempt to dodge each other in the aisles. Someone does not see the floor stickers and back muscles tighten. The sharp condescending tones of a young and tired cashier remind me of a middle school teacher. In the chaotic wreckage of post-shelter-in-place America, childhood insecurities have reclaimed ground once lost to adulthood, and the smallest act of non-compliance solicits fierce if unspoken reactions. Anxiety and concern for safety suck the air out of humor and graciousness - in a world where the only smiles we can offer are hidden and at a distance. Yet, the Lord is present in this tenseness of it all, waiting for that one moment where He might unveil his glory. This would seem to be one of the tasks of the moment - to allow our conscience to convict us more than we allow our fears to excuse us. This is a grace to ask for and to work to receive with all of one's effort. For the Holy Spirit convinces of sin precisely when we believe that catastrophe has rendered that mystery no longer applicable. The irony is that in catastrophe we most need to be spiritually awake - yet under the spell of sin, our eyes are shut to the exquisite new work that God has begun among us. The Holy Spirit would set the world afire were not our hearts dampened by distrust. This Living Flame in a disclosing flash illumines the secret mediocrities otherwise hidden by our pre-occupation with crisis. With heavenly warmth, this Furnace of Love carefully melts that hardness that forms on life's surface for our own lack of love. Yet, to accomplish this great work, we must suffer the dark smoke that bellows in prayerful awareness of the Word until, dried out from insobriety, a more worthy desire might ignite.

Contemplative prayer does not cringe before crisis, but wades in. Not limited to a few moments of solitude or a brief period of exterior silence before the noise of the daily routine takes hold, this prayer, if humble and determined, stays lit in the heart no matter the darkness of the moment. Not a public display, this prayer is at work in the public square precisely because it keeps alive the things of the heart. Yes, it knows all sorts of humiliations and trials - but such is the stuff of love. So a harsh word is turned away with a kind response - one as gratuitous and unexpected as the other. Then, where no one sees, in the hidden quiet, its solitary quest is renewed and deepened, even when the soul steps forward with no other light than comes from that secret Fire from above.

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