Prayer for All

Prayer for All

13 February 2015

"But I prayer." (Ps 109.4)


"I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men...For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth." (1 Ti 2.1-4)


The true contemplative (called to live a life of prayer), will at some early point in their "career" be shaken to the core and cut to the quick by the sure and certain knowledge that they have been "designed" and appointed to pray "for all men".


The grace to pray thus is gifted by the Lord.


"I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications." (Zec 12.10)


According to the Orthodox contemplative, Silouan of Athos (1866-1938), the man who is "obedient and temperate in all things, receives the gift of prayer from the Lord Himself, and prayer continues without difficulty in his heart.


"When the soul stills her passions and grows humble, the Lord gives her His grace, and then she prays for her enemies as for herself, and sheds scalding tears for the whole world."


The brilliant, Carmelite martyr, Edith Stein (1891-1942), was likewise apprehended by and lived this glorious "mystery".  She wrote, "The flood of divine love will be poured into your heart until it overflows and becomes fruitful to all the ends of the earth...You can be at all fronts, wherever there is grief, in the power of the Cross.  Your compassionate love takes you everywhere, this love from the divine heart.  Its precious Blood is poured everywhere soothing, healing, saving."


A more homely exposition of this mystical theology has been left for us by the diminutive, spiritual prodigy, Therese of Lisieux (1873-97).


In her own life of prayer, Therese came to understand that when she "hastened" to God, "all those whom I love come running at my heels".


In prayer, this "little daughter" of Teresa of Avila, plunged herself into the love of Jesus Christ, and "I carry with me all the possessions I have; the souls You have seen fit to link with mine."


More recently, the French "street" contemplative, Raissa Maritain (1883-1960), spoke of "a certain very simple prayer by which we take into our heart those for whom we wish to pray, and then offer this heart to God."


At the very dawn of his own vocation to the monastic life, Thomas Merton (1915-68, USA) explained that he "had wondered what was holding the country together, what was keeping the universe from cracking in pieces and falling apart?"


As a completely "green" novice in the contemplative life, he nevertheless intuited it was that house of prayer he was entering.


"Because of their prayers, the world is spared from minute to minute doom...It is the axle around which the whole country blindly turns."


The theology of this universal and totally ecumenical phenomenon has been most succinctly explained by the prophetical scholar, Karl Barth (1886-1968, Switzerland).  He has pointed out that Christians are in communion with all men, since Christ "prays for all mankind".


"When Christians pray," he said, "they are, so to speak, substitutes for all those who do not pray...They are in communion with them, in the same way as Jesus Christ has made himself one with sinful man and lost humanity."


It was Barth who "coined" the phrase that we "pray through Jesus' mouth"; inasmuch as "he enables us to draw near and be heard".  I would want to press this saying further by asserting that all those who cannot, do not, will not pray, in fact do "cry out" via the lips of contemplatives, even as we ourselves are heard, through our High Priest's holy mouth.


This is a truth, stunning in its own validity and its consequences.  Little wonder the contemplative life so often flummoxes its "supporters", is denied by large tracts of worldly Christendom, and is feared and abhorred by the devil.


At the very least, all of the praying and every prayer of that one who lives to pray, is for all people, in every place, for all time.


By God's grace alone, we are actual, experiential members of "the High Priest of our profession (who) ever lives to make intercession". (Heb 3.1, 7.25)


This is a total nightmare for the enemy, who constantly labours and campaigns to extinguish every flame of prayer wherever it is kindled.  The most unimpressive and "unproductive" contemplative can slam down onto their knees in utter obscurity, "non-existence" and poverty of spirit, stuttering and mumbling, "Lord do not leave me.  Help me!"  But that petition, because of the nature and vocation of the pray-er, will career and bounce and ricochet all around the world, igniting fires of valid and meaningful prayer wherever it touches down.


As remarkable and powerful as this surely is, there is yet a further dimension to contemplative prayer...when the pray-er becomes prayer.  How else to interpret David's heart-cry in Psalm 109 and verse 4:


"But I prayer."


Different versions of the Bible seek to "rationalise" the text:  "But I give myself unto prayer"; "But I am in prayer"; "But I am a man of prayer"?  Nevertheless, the verse is as plain, as it is clear, as it is blunt.


"But I prayer."


Is it really possible for the pray-er to become prayer?  Not only is it possible, but it is a necessity indicated and made possible by the Incarnation.


"And the Word was made flesh." (Jn 1.14, 1 Jn 1.1 and 4.2)


The "embodiment" of the eternal, pre-existent Son was an absolutely crucial step in the salvation of the human race.  The "embodying" of our prayers is now a "given" because of His Incarnation, and it is vital for the fulfillment of His plan of salvation.


In practice and "operation" what does this look like?  Well, ironically it just "looks like" an ordinary, mundane, everyday life.  The authentic, God-called contemplative will pray routinely and recognisably; at the very least they will pray the Psalms at set times of the day and night.  This is the sine qua non (indispensable condition) of the life of prayer; it has been so for millennia, all across the Church, and all around the world.


But it is as much during the hours in between their "scheduled" praying, that the pray-er becomes prayer.  How?  Because their whole life - every aspect, occupation and recreation - is ordained to be prayer.  That is why the apostle of prayer, Benedict of Nursia (6th C) was able to say (as if it was blindingly obvious!), "To pray is to work; to work is to pray."


So, I want to say yet again, it is little wonder the contemplative life (living to pray and praying to live) is loathed and brutally opposed by the adversary.  It is God's strategy to incarnate His grace to pray in us.  Then our most commonplace, ordinary and workaday "doings" are rendered praise and petition, which have the potential to turn away bedlam and wrath from nations, and alter the course of history creatively and for good.


Our current, Western obsession with religious and spiritual significance, impressiveness and productivity has almost completely blinded us to this awesome and dynamic reality.  The barefoot contemplative, silently splitting wet firewood on a frosty morning, is heard at Heaven's Throne.  And their "dumb" cries and mute intercessions are as least as distinct and compelling as those of any man of "the hour", who declaims his erudite and mellifluous intercessions from a floodlit stage.


To say a prayer is good.  To pray is even better.  But, to become a prayer...well now, that's when Heaven comes down upon earth.





"St. Silouan the Athonite" Elder Sophrony, SVS Press 1999.

"The Hidden Life" Edith Stein, ICS Publications -

"The Story of a Soul" Therese of Lisieux, Collins 1958.

"Raissa's Journal" Magi Books 1974.

"The Intimate Merton" A Lion Book 1999.

"Prayer and Preaching" Karl Barth, SCM Press 1964.