Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray With Me”.
Today, let’s look at the book The Prayer of Faith by Leonard Boase (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1976). First published in 1950, the author rewrote, rearranged, and republished in 1976. He comments on his revision: “The more things change, the more they stay the same. The car has been re-upholstered but the engine’s the same.” (p. 9)
Boase describes prayer as a rope. The purpose of the rope is to pull. It is the pull that matters, not the rope’s color or age or hairiness or smell. In prayer, love is the pull, the most important part. We exert the pull by loving God, as we do thoroughly and with due attention whatever we happen to be occupied with–work, play, suffering, or having a time of formal prayer where we pay attention to God’s presence.
Boase says that the first stage of prayer is usually “mental prayer”–that is, thinking about God or meditating on scripture to experience his presence. Mental prayer may succeed for a time, maybe even a long time. But then comes the darkness. (p. 23)
He describes the darkness in a chapter titled “Frustration”, which begins: “There is a crisis in the life of prayer which, for many, spells disaster. There is a desert on this Golden Journey, where nearly everyone wanders lost and parched, and some die of thirst.” (p. 20).
He continues, “We find ourselves lost, irretrievably lost, in the desert. No efforts, however frantic, seem to be of any avail. Not only do we feel no taste for prayer, but even if, spurred by an uneasy conscience, we override the distaste, we seem to have lost the knack.” (p. 24) Boase says about this darkness, “. . .we find that when we try to love God by thinking about him, our thoughts are cloudy and confused, and we cannot focus them on him or anything relating to him. This frustration. . . causes distaste and aversion to prayer.”
I remember an early experience with this darkness. I decided to pray the Lord’s Prayer for a whole semester. But three quarters of the way through that semester, I was still unable to get past the first phrase, “Hallowed be your name”. I tried to pray almost every day, but my prayer was distracted, inattentive, unfocussed. With anger and frustration and disappointment in myself, I said to God, “I guess I’m just not able to pray. It doesn’t work for me.”
I felt God reply “I have enjoyed your prayer this semester. It’s been good to hear you pray, ‘Hallowed be your name.’”
Father Thomas Green makes a similar point. Suppose you plan to spend your birthday with God, he writes. You set aside the day for him and read scripture and pray and try to be present to God. But the whole day is dry and barren. You show up, but God doesn’t, and it feels like a wasted day. Then, Green says, three days later when you’re sitting on the toilet, you unexpectedly sense God’s presence and he fills you with peace and joy and the water of life.
What is it with this darkness and dryness in prayer? Boase says it’s God working in us to build faith, a faith that helps us be present with God in our spirit, rather than our mind or emotions. God wants us to worship in spirit and truth, so he helps us by letting our mind and emotions go dark, and teaches us a new way of experiencing his presence.
The way through the darkness is to keep on praying, to keep listening in silence for God, to reach out to him with our heart, even when our mind is distracted and our feelings are not engaged.
Leonard Boase calls this the prayer of faith, because it is God’s gift, drawing us into communion with him by a hidden way. Teresa of Avila calls this the dry well. St. John of the Cross calls it the dark night of the soul. If your prayer has begun to be dry or dark, you might find this book helpful.
It’s The Prayer of Faith, by Leonard Boase.
Our father, wherever we are on the journey of prayer, we ask you to be our companion and guide. Save us from self-deception, from an unhealthy desire for mystical experiences, from imagining we have found the best way to pray. Above all, whether we pray in light or in darkness, lead us deeper into the prayer of faith.
I’m Daniel on the channel “Pray with Me”.