Prayer that is spiritual and genuine is both a call and a response: a divine call and a human response.
The definition of prayer rests on an important fact: prayer does not reach its power and efficacy as an actual communion with God until man is fully aware that his soul is created in God’s image. He should feel that it derives its very being from him. In this being, nothing is more vital than this self-awareness. Once man’s soul becomes sure of this, it will have laid hold of the source of such awareness—which is God. Thus the soul realizes, sees, and touches God’s self.
There is only one true, realistic, and honest way for man to be aware of himself. It is to first be aware of God. For it is God who created man’s soul in his own likeness. When man then becomes aware of himself, he finds himself at once facing God’s likeness.
Even self consciousness, a faculty that God has granted to man’s soul, is but an image of God’s consciousness of himself. And so the way leading man to a true and honest awareness of himself is a simple one. It is the same way, and the only way, which leads to his awareness of God.
Matthew the Poor, Orthodox Prayer Life
Reflection – Well, here I am, finally back from my unexpectedly long hiatus from blogging, and charging ahead with bloggy business as usual on my brand spankin’ new MacBook Pro ™. I am not insensible of the irony that the author of The I-Choice: Staying Human in a Digital Age (publication pending… soon) has now joined the Church of Apple. I am a mass of contradictions.
Meanwhile the above quote is from a book I used on my five-day poustinia retreat, along with the Philokalia which is the great treasury of Eastern Christian wisdom, to supplement my reading of Scripture. And I was so enraptured, really, by Matthew the Poor’s wisdom and insight that I wanted to share a bit of it with you on the blog, from time to time.
Matthew is a contemporary monk of Egypt, and stands at the heart of a revival of Egyptian monasticism in our times. He is a Copt who has eaten and drunk deeply of the wisdom of the whole Christian tradition—Byzantine, Catholic, and his own Egyptian forebears. He is also a member of a persecuted Church, and his wisdom no doubt derives in no small part from the sufferings of his people, for whom he is great spiritual father.
These words above are from the beginning of the book I was reading, and strike directly to the heart of the matter. What does it mean to ‘know ourselves’. Who are we, anyhow? What is a human person? Do I know myself by virtue of knowing that I like chicken and dislike brussel sprouts, that I enjoy blues and folk rock a la Mumford and Sons, and detest rap music? Do I know myself by virtue of knowing my own personal history, family, friends, episodes? My gifts and strengths, and my weakness and failures?
I think we all sense, dimly perhaps, that there is something left out of all these and any other kind of ‘self-knowledge’ conducted along strictly humanistic and natural lines. Namely… ourselves.
Matthew, then, plunges to the heart of the matter. We do not know ourselves until we know ourselves as made in God’s image and according to his likeness. We do not know ourselves until we know the self that God knows. We do not know ourselves except and unless we pray.
We live in a circus funhouse, distorted reflections of our own visage wherever we turn. We know what we are like… but not quite, not really. We know ourselves, but not as we really are. We can strive to bang away at the mirrors to straighten them out, clear out the distortions, smash the ones that are warped beyond repair, constantly correct our perception for accuracy (no, my face is not actually as long as my body… no, my legs are not actually six inches long).
Or we can forget about it all, and turn our whole attention to God, to Jesus, to the true mirror and the One who tells us the truth about ourselves and about everything else we need to know. Prayer is not some little hobby spiritually inclined people can engage in, or some desperate last-ditch clutching at divine succor in times of crisis.