Tuesday, January 19, 2010


On a recent afternoon, I spent time praying with friends for common concerns and people in need of God's intercession, as well as for kind mercies. As I looked up from what turned out to be only our first round of petitions, I met the eyes of the woman across from me. They looked like I felt: drunk.

I can begin to understand (or at least feel) what my alcoholic friends and relatives (now sober or not) appear to have experienced -- an overpowering pull toward the bottle. For me, it is the power of the bottle of prayer.

There is something about the sweetness of prayer that induces in me a kind of stupor. For some reason, I have not spoken of it to others (yet perhaps I should). I wonder if they, too, have felt it. If I were to judge by the eyes of some of my prayer partners, I would hazard a positive answer to that question. With one friend who is a frequent dinner partner, for example, we often cannot speak for a few minutes after saying a heartfelt grace. It is indeed akin to being under the influence, but in this case it is the influence of the all-consuming presence of God.

Similarly, I find more and more often now that I simply do not want to step away from contemplation, from that sense of union, from being part of something far greater than anything of this earth, from sifting into the presence of a loving God. I belong to a contemplative prayer group, and when Fr. Kevin pulls us out of contemplation back into a social environment, I increasingly feel immense resistance. I don't want Fr. Kevin, as good as he is and has much as I love and admire him. I want God. I want to stay in contemplation without any regard for the world around me.

When I am home, it is possible to remain in contemplation for longer than I plan although it has happened that I have ended up late at work as a result. How then does one balance an earthly life and job (a job, in fact, which God insisted I take and keep) and the desire to spend ever more time with God? How do you, dear blog readers, do it? At times, I envy those who have been called to a contemplative life or who do not have to work or have intervening responsibilities that would would pull them away from contemplation at length. Then, I remember that God put me in my job and that in it I have already had many opportunities to help Him help others -- and it is an interesting, rewarding job. He chose well for me. I love what I do, and I love that He is there with me all the time and makes a difference for many people.

So, I am back to my original question. How does one balance the spiritual life against the secular life. Spiritualize earthly experiences? My workplace does seem to be becoming very spiritual. God is not only present with me but also with many of my employees, especially the senior managers who work directly for me. God is there not just in our personal beliefs, but in our conversations, in our decisions -- I am extremely pleased from time to time when a senior manager decides to break a rule for the benefit of an employee. I am extremely pleased that I can use spiritual leadership guidance, in particular servant leadership, in developing new and junior leaders. I am extraordinarily pleased to see my once secularly oriented boss now occasionally do the same. Perhaps that is why God wanted me in that job, so that He could make these kinds of changes there. Perhaps there is a different reason that I will come to know or never know. Why God wanted where I am does not matter. He wanted it, and I am here. That matters. And so, again, I am left with the question of balance.

But perhaps I am not seeing clearly. Perhaps I do have it without seeing it for even if I have to end a session of contemplation before I feel ready and even if there is no time for anything except a snatch of prayer here and there during the day, perhaps as short as one word, "Help!", I can feel God with me all the time. So can the senior managers. I think we are all, using Brother Lawrence's term, practicing the presence of God, and that should be sufficient.

But again, and finally, I will raise the question to you. What are your experiences? Successes? Frustrations? Solutions?


  1. Elizabeth,
    When I first realized the beauty of prayer and a close relationship with God I felt crushed every time I had to stop spending time with Him. I thought I had missed my calling and wished I wasn't married. Isn't that awful! But I was young and soon began to learn that God was in the pots and pans and that He is with us always. I sometimes forget His presence when I am deeply involved in something but overall I feel His finger on my soul most of the time. This is very humbling because when I fall [and I do] it amazes me because He is quick to pick me up and console me. I am touched by this and try so hard to be like this for others. God has gifted you extremely, I have read a lot of your writing and find His hand everywhere in your life. What a blessing! At work you can be a little Jesus, the Holy Spirit is at work constantly in our lives :) When I must draw my attention away from Him, I offer it up as suffering :) Don't you agree? It sure feels like suffering, anyway.

    Your family is in my prayers. I know these have been trying times for you. I pray, also, for the repose of Ray's soul. May he rest in peace. God is good.

  2. Dear Elizabeth in Christ,
    You face a difficult challenge, one that very few understand. Most are running from God while you feel pain when you leave his embrace.

    I have found St. Teresa of Avila's writings of greatest benefit in this area. She, as well as all mystical doctors and saints are very clear. Our vocation drives how we understand and deal with these challenges.

    The draw to prayer is for the purposes of fulfilling our vocation. Said another way, the way we know that we are on the right path is that our mystical experience and relationship with Christ drives us to virtue and selfless love of neighbor. This is the same drive that was likely in Christ as he stood up at the end of his times in sacred union with the Father to go re-engage with those whom he was to redeem.

    Our calling is to redeem - to bring Christ into the workplace and the family, not the cloister. If my prayer life were to cause me to neglect these things rather than embrace them, then I would suspect that the struggle might be rooted in the prompting of the enemy of our souls and sensuality rather than God. I have to be vigilant that I don't allow an inordinate love for the consolations of God to, in essence, trump what he has clearly tasked me to do.

    An example of my struggle with this is that my preferred time for holy hour is after communion on Sunday (particularly when I travel to my place of work in CT). I am often lost in prayer at this time. The challenge is that I have been adopted by a group of older ladies (80's-90's) who constantly insist I join them for lunch etc. In talking this over with my wife, she rightly pointed out the fact that I already spend a great deal of time in prayer every day and that I should adjust my schedule to accomodate these ladies. Why? Because they may not encounter anyone else that will ask them about the readiness of their souls to meet God; to steer conversations toward the deeper life as they come closer to their earthly end...

    Anyway - the world needs you. If these encounters are genuine and produce obvious growth in virtue, the world needs you all the more. Rise with Christ and give yourself away. Then, when called back again to the beloved, return to love him and to gather more grace to give away again...

  3. Mary and Dan, thank you so much for your insights. They help me very much in thinking about my own experiences.