On Prayer & Love
A REFLECTION BY RICH BYRNE
My prayer life became more active when I was introduced to contemplative or quiet prayer. I learned in new ways to pay attention to God’s Loving Presence and realize that God is always paying attention to me. Traditional prayers, such as, the Rosary, the Jesus Prayer, Lectio Divina and Centering Prayer became the basis for opening my heart even more to His wondrous abiding Love. And, as I age, I can feel this Presence is the deepening basis out of which I know, love and serve others.
For years, I didn’t think I had much of a prayer life – merely because I just couldn’t do it – until I was introduced to a concept called “centering prayer”. A nun instructed us to repeat and concentrate on a word or a phrase, repeatedly, and when she rang the bell at the end of the 20 minutes, I came to and thought, wow, that was 20 minutes? I felt like a fish thrown back in a creek. I found for myself, prayer wasn’t just one thing. There’s a broad spectrum of using words or images or thoughts… but there’s also an entire area of prayer where you don’t use those things. You may just be in the presence of someone you love a lot and sit in silence – experiencing the presence of God. You feel the connection with the other person. You don’t have to fill the air with words. The idea behind that is “I am thoroughly loved, and I am called to love.” Whatever wakes that up in you…
When I first moved to Florida, I’d get so angry when I missed the signal lights. They’re 2 minutes long! One day I realized that, hey, I could use this as prayer time. So now I turn off the radio, sit quietly and pray. Five minutes later I’m at another 2-minute light, and so I make a habit of it throughout the day.
But you know, this concept works even better in community. A lot of people have small groups within their Church (bereavement, moms group, recovery-type meetings), and those are great because you’re all there for a common reason (ultimately to get closer to God). Then, if we’re all leading active prayer lives individually, we can get together on Sunday and have a greater experience of the Mass. We’ll have greater awareness of God, and of love.
I sort of resist the idea of defining ‘love’. In the Tao te Ching, they say if you can name it, that’s not it. If you can define it, that’s not it either. When Jesus says to love God with your whole being, and to love your neighbor as yourself – it’s a real challenge to us to come to the realization, who am I, really?
I teach a class on civic engagement at Florida Gulf Coast University, and I always put the names and symbols of the world’s religions on the board – Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc. Buddhists treat it a bit differently, but they all essentially profess to love God, and your neighbor as yourself. I then ask the class, ‘what is the problem here?’ And they all shout ‘The self! The self!’ So they realize that most of us just don’t love ourselves.
So for myself, love has more to do with energy – I’m in touch with the energy of God, and God with me. You’re looking at me now and I look like a solid human being, but the truth is, I’m much more space than I am solidity. When you look down to the molecules, I’m much more energy, than I am matter. So for me, I’m much more of an energy, and love is a flowing energy. It’s positive. It’s caring. It’s compassionate. It’s wise. And for all of us, somewhere in our being, we know what it is.
Teachers of emotional anatomy teach us that our deepest fears sit on top of our deepest love in the body. The Sufis would tell us that the two basic emotions are love and fear – not love and hate. So the reason we abuse ourselves and abuse other people is because we’re driven by fear, not love. So if I’m feeling fear, then I know I’m not feeling love. So if we say that ‘God is love’, what we’re really saying is that we can really trust the universe. Even when things aren’t going our way, they are going God’s way.
Even if we get a really bad diagnosis of a disease, we can know that we’re are still thoroughly loved. In fact, many times when people get a diagnosis like that, the most spiritual thing for them to realize is ‘I am not this body’.
I like to think of my body like an automobile, and think of life like I’m driving to Church. When we get to Church, we don’t think, ‘You know, I really like this car, I think I’m going to stay here instead of going inside.” You don’t do that, but in life, there will come a time when we need to drop this body. We need to realize that there will come a time when we’ll need to be in the presence of God – and I believe that God is pure love – so I work on myself in this life to be ready and open enough to experience God’s love for eternity.