This past spring an Italian documentarian visited a convent of cloistered Clarisse Nuns (known to us as Poor Clares) in Urbino Italy. They agreed to making a documentary where the questions were unknown to them before being asked. At one point the interviewer asked them: “(You tell me that…) prayer is your secret weapon, what kind of weapon is it?” The immediate response was “It is a weak weapon, very fragile, but at the same time powerful, one in which we believe.”
I was struck by the layers of this answer, at least how I view it.
Prayer is a weak weapon in the eyes of those who don’t pray; a waste of valuable time. But when you consider that relationships grow best, indeed only grow, with communication – then prayer, our communication with our Father is a vital and powerful link in our continuing and growing relationship with our Creator.
Prayer to those who pray wrongly, can be a weak weapon because we don’t understand that God gives us what we need, not what we desire. Jesus in today’s Gospel tells us as much: ‘You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.’’ The reason for our prayer is to grow into the fullness that God knows we should be; not how we see things.
Prayer, to those who pray correctly, is weak because it doesn’t affect change – it doesn’t dominate anything – it isn’t the tool for a problem. And that is good, for we don’t know how to fix things, especially ourselves. We need our Creator to participate in our lives, to take action within us because we are made in His image. We are both spiritual and creation; and only God, in the second person of the most Holy Trinity, understands what that really means.
Prayer is fragile; and I know each of us can attest to this. How many times have we brushed prayer aside because we are too busy? How many times have we come out of prayer with the knowledge that our hearts weren’t in it? How many times have we tried to pray and just couldn’t get a foothold, so to speak; we couldn’t start because our minds and hearts where swirling among random and maybe even conflicting thoughts. Prayer should be fragile; God doesn’t dominate – He isn’t a puppet master in control of puppets: “but the Lord was not in the wind; after the wind, an earthquake—but the Lord was not in the earthquake; after the earthquake, fire—but the Lord was not in the fire; after the fire, a light silent sound.” Elijah finds out in 1st Kings that God is never powerful and forceful in His relationship with us – He allows us to grow in our conversation with Him and part of that growth is discipline in our prayer life, growth in our ability to find our own mountain to go up and pray.
Prayer is fragile because relationships themselves are fragile. We are not praying to an abstract idea, a cold and calculating dogma – we are praying to a person, we are growing in a relationship with someone just as alive as each of us. We all know the fragility in relationships – each of us has felt it. There is no reason that our relationship with God should be any different – and just like every relationship we grow from the knowledge of fragility – we come to understand the nuances and their effect on us. We learn to love more.
Prayer is powerful, precisely because it is weak and fragile. It shows us that alone we fall, alone we can’t find true happiness and peace, alone – we end up alone. But with prayer we open ourselves to the creator and allow him to strengthen us, we build up a solid relationship with God because we allow ultimate trust into our hearts – we have a rock solid but vibrant foundation. We find that mere words, that seemingly have no power are in fact powerful helps to our sin-weaken condition. And maybe most important, we find that we are loved by someone more than we can love ourselves – loved by nurturing, caring God who believes in us; and that is something I can believe in.