LIBERA ME, Domine, Iesu Christe, ab omnibus iniquitatis meis et universis malis,
fac me tuis semper inhærere mandatis et a te numquam separari permittas. Amen.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Prayers on target

I came home from Mass this morning through Kew; and as I passed the beginning of Richmond Deer Park I was struck by a curious sight . . . a young lady was having an archery lesson. Now, there’s nothing unusual in that; there are often archers active there, and not infrequently people obviously being given tuition.

What struck me today, though, was that this wasn’t just a young lady learning how to use a bow : this was a young lady trying to learn how to use a bow with every conceivable gadget on it. Don’t ask me what they all do, because I have no idea; but her bow was - like the one pcitured above - covered in bits sticking out, and looked very much like the sort of things you see if you watch the archery at the Olympics . . . clearly, in fact, a ‘Formula 1’ model bow . . . and yet she was obviously a complete beginner; if only because as I watched she was having her stance adjusted, and her target was no more than ten yards away.

I couldn’t help wondering whether, just possibly, she might have found it easier to learn the basics with a simpler bow : and it led me to consider how often people do the same thing with prayer (me too, before you wonder !).

They want to pray; so they go and buy books with titles like ‘Classic Techniques of Mental Prayer’, and rapidly become so confused that if they retain their faith, let alone their desire to pray, it’s almost a first-class Miracle. I know this is true : when I was young (about 18, from memory), I bought a copy of the Spiritual Exercises of S. Ignatius . . . and tried to use it, without any guidance. When I eventually got over the mental indigestion and the gross spiritual confusion that my rash conduct had caused, a friend – to whom I suggested that S. Ignatius and I obviously didn’t get on all that well ! – suggested that I might like to have a look at one of his favourite prayer books, which had concise notes on a number of techniques of mental prayer . . . so I did, and almost had a relapse trying to use the ‘Oratorian Method’.

Of course the failing wasn’t in either S. Ignatius or Cardinal Bérulle : it was just a more-or-less inevitable consequence of my trying (in effect) to drive a Formula 1 car at 200 mph before passing my driving test in a Mini at 40 mph ! In other words (to pinch a catchphrase from frs Peter and Isidore), I was trying to pray my way, not God’s way . . . and what I learnt from my failures was that – to put it simply – without the basics, it’s unlikely, if not actually impossible, that one will succeed in achieving the advanced techniques . . . and at that stage I was still only on about Lesson Two of the basics.

And now . . ? Well, I say my Office and my Rosary, but I only use a few other prayers regularly, because I don't feel the need for great variety : and although I do use Mental Prayer, I don’t think I’d claim to use any particular technique : I just ‘look at Him, and He looks at me’ as one of my Commenters said recently . . . and hope that in the little bits of true stillness and emptiness I achieve, God will, from time to time, vouchsafe a little bit of grace, or love, or holiness.

I hope that the young lady I watched this morning eventually learns how to use her very sophisticated bow to the best effect, and has a successful toxophilitic career . . . but I have to say that in prayer I am quite convinced that we all need to ‘start at the very beginning’, and move onward in God’s good time – not our own : and that it will very likely be a lot slower progress than we think !

(The photo above is not, I must emphasize, a photo of the young lady this morning; it’s of a Korean Olympian, and I have put it up only to show what I mean about fiercely complicated bows !)

1 comment:

  1. Well, with something like a bow and arrow, given the distance arrows can travel, you want the person to be as accurate as possible as soon as possible! It's not like hitting a tennis ball awry. "Oh, well...sorry I seemed to have missed the target and did a "st. Sebastian" on you..."