Offerings don’t have to succeed: they simply have to be offered
Before you begin you may like to reflect: This is my love-offering, aided by grace, sitting quietly in the presence of God, allowing all thoughts, memories and imaginations to drop away, knowing that God will use this offering for the extension of his kingdom.
Prayer is best seen as an offering to God that he may use it as he will. Through silent prayer we become more deeply rooted in Christ and so more effective instruments of God’s grace. The effect of contemplative prayer, as seen by St John of the Cross, is to ‘set the soul on fire with the spirit of love’. Love is the great healer and, firmly planted within, may well remove blockages in mind and body which no medicine or treatment can touch. We have it from St John the apostle, for example, that love is victorious over fear (1 John 4:18) which is so often at the root of mental and physical sickness. But to make the undoubted healing power of prayer more than a secondary motive for its practice tends to fix us upon ourselvesrather than on God. We do better to direct our attention towards God, and to allow the rest to take care of itself.
The more we think of prayer as an offering to God, or better still as a loveoffering, the less we shall be disturbed by doubts as to whether it is ‘doing any good’. Offerings don’t have to succeed: they simply have to be offered, and in such simplicity of heart as God may grant. When the going is hard it may help to reflect that you are there for God’s sake and not your own. Consider, too, that you do not wish to make an offering which costs you nothing.
The test of prayer is its fruit. St Paul lists the fruits of the Spirit as: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. (Galatians 5: 22-23)
You may like to just sit quietly waiting upon God, or to use silently some form of words as: ‘He enfolds us for love and will never let us go’, or ‘Be still and know that I am God’, or words of your choice.
This Ash Wednesday morning I found myself sitting next to a two-year-old child whose grandmother had brought her to church. She sat silently for a short while and then climbed on to granny’s lap and remained contentedly in her arms for the full forty minutes. What was little Daisy doing? Seemingly nothing, but that is not correct. Unknowingly she was offering herself to be loved. The thought takes us to the deepest offering we can make in prayer, the offering of ourselves to God to be loved. We ourselves do nothing except that we make the offering and continue to make it (not thinking about it unless it be at the start and thereafter now and again) until the time is up, and we leave the work to be done by God. God loves us and enjoys us, as Julian of Norwich reminds us, but so often our ‘busyness’ and neglect prevent that love reaching us as he would wish. Here in the silence we are giving him the opportunity he longs for. And just as Daisy’s love for her granny was further drawn out by granny’s love for her, so our own love for God grows as a spontaneous (almost reflex) response to God’s love for us. And the overspill of that love is, of course, found in our love for one another in daily life.
This thought can be a most encouraging one in our prayers. So often it seems that we are doing nothing and that it is just a waste of time, but so long as the offering remains, so does the prayer and we are fed by it more than we know. One of the rules of prayer is that it is not to be judged by how it feels at the time but (if judged at all) by its later fruit.
‘Julian Meetings’, which exist to encourage contemplative prayer in the Christian tradition, issue a prayer card which emphasizes this deeper way of prayer. It deserves to be quoted in full.
Relax your body
and quieten your mind.
Be open to God in the silence.
God is with you – here – now.
Do not strive or be anxious.
Be silent, be still
and let God reach you.
Let God love you.
Some Thoughts on Silent Prayer (2004)
Excerpted from Why Pray? Unpublished writings by the former chaplain to the shrine of Julian of Norwich by Robert Llewelyn.