Everything about this time of year – from the readings and prayers we hear at Mass to the Christmas carols that jingle away in the background as we shop – is designed to cultivate a sense of anticipation within us. We are encouraged to develop an attitude of eager longing as we journey towards Christmas.
It all has to do with the nature of God. Jesus reveals a God whose very essence is self-giving love. The God of Jesus is not distant and aloof. Rather, Jesus reveals a God who is utterly vulnerable, totally given, totally poured-out before us in love.
Now, to quote the contemporary writer Ruth Burrows, “If the heart of Christianity is the God who gives nothing less than God’s own Self, it follows, as a logical conclusion, that the fundamental stance a Christian must take is that of receiving Him. First and foremost we must accept to be loved, allow God to love us, let God be the doer, the giver, let God be God to us. But how hard it is for us to do that consistently! We are always reversing the role, intent on serving God, as we say, on doing things for God, offering God something. This is our natural bent, but it must be corrected by the vision of faith. Over and over again, Jesus tries to get his disciples to drop this self-important attitude and to understand that, before God, they are only very small children who have no resources within themselves, but must look to their parents for everything, simply everything. It is not their role to give, but to receive. Jesus knows that this calls for a radical change of outlook and, more than outlook, a radical change of heart. From always trying to prove ourselves to God, we have to become poor in spirit just as Jesus was” (Ruth Burrows, Essence of Prayer, 48).
Prayer is a privileged “space” for cultivating receptivity, or openness, to the God of love. We can say that prayer is a concentrated expression of what it means to be human. So prayer isn’t about getting God’s attention, or trying to win his favour, or entertaining him for a little while. First and last, prayer is about deliberately and resolutely exposing ourselves to the fire of God’s love. When we pray, God’s one, consuming desire is that we allow him to love us, no matter how lovable or unlovable, worthy or unworthy, we might feel.
What does it mean to have sacred receptivity to the fire of God’s love during our times of prayer? It actually takes effort deliberately to expose ourselves to the unseen and often unfelt reality of God’s love. It is here that the various methods of prayer come into view. These are the various things that we do during our times of prayer – like praying with Scripture, praying the Rosary, reciting a sacred word and so on. These different ways of praying are our practical way of opening our hearts to God’s love.
It’s worth mentioning here that, wrongly, we tend to gauge the “success” of our prayer by how well we have “performed.”
For example, one day we may pray the Rosary with such concentration that our thoughts didn’t wander for the duration of our prayer time – and so we think: “that was a successful prayer time.” And on the next day, we may pray the Rosary with just as much sincerity and find that we are utterly bored, distracted and uninspired – and so we think: “well, that was a waste of time.” In both cases, though, we are measuring the “success” of our prayer by how well we have “performed.”
But, the real meaning of the different ways of prayer isn’t that they become achievements in themselves. They have a far deeper purpose: they are meant to help us remain open to the inflowing of God’s love. What really matters is our decision to be open to God’s love; whether we feel anything on the emotional level or not, the truth is there is no holding God back when he sees receptivity to his love.
Let’s conclude with a video that explores cultivating in prayer that sacred receptivity which is at the heart of Advent and at the heart of our very lives: https://youtu.be/Wu1qeEfnNA4