Marc Barnes over at BadCatholic just wrote a great piece on how he could never “de-convert” from Christianity. I want to share just a bit of it here.
“I confess that Christianity is like a dog at my heels. I can’t shake it. I used to never pray, and was happy. Now, if I don’t pray, I am miserable. The love of Christ is terrifying, because it has changed me into a self for whom prayer is a necessity. Is this weakness? Perhaps, but it is also love! When we love we are changed by the beloved, changed to a person for whom the beloved is an integral part of our being, identity, and existence. Truly loving someone makes the decision not to love them a denial, not a change, a death of self, not a ‘leaving behind.’”
This, I think, is the crux of why most people don’t practice daily meditative prayer. It certainly gets at why I didn’t really take my prayer life seriously for so long, years after I even intellectually assented that daily prayer was necessary.
I, like most people, do just fine without prayer.
It’s important to acknowledge that the danger of ignoring daily prayer is not that your life will fall apart without it; at least, not for most people.
The danger is that your life won’t fall apart without it.
I didn’t really realize I wanted my life to fall apart until I waded further into the stream of Christ’s love. The closer I got to Him, the more often I acknowledged His presence, the longer I went between knowing I wanted a deeper relationship with Him and finally pursuing that relationship, the more I realized I was not satisfied.
Life as is was not good enough anymore. I wanted life, and life to the full.
All the encounters I had with Him and the Church He left us kept hinting at a life bigger and more dangerous and more adventurous than the one I was living, and try as I might, I couldn’t quite access that life until I made daily prayer a priority.
I think my wife can attest to the transformation my life has taken over the last several years, particularly the last 12-18 months, which is when daily prayer became more of a reality than something I just talked about wanting to do.
Things have changed. Things that were once really important to me have faded to the background. Some of my favorite sins are no longer a part of my life. Others are less so. My life, on the whole, is noticeably different than it once was.
I am not perfect. To be honest, I’ve found other sins have become more prominent in the absence of some of my old reliables. But that’s because I’ve been confronted with all the parts of my soul, with all that encompasses my reality, rather than that which I would allow myself and others to really see.
Just like getting married and moving in with my wife made some new faults conspicuous that had once been hidden, as well as revealing some virtuous dispositions I hadn’t previously been aware of inside of me, so has engaging in daily communion with Christ forced out into the light more of me, good and bad, than I had allowed before.
And while this hasn’t been easy, and while at times I wish I could go back to ignoring parts of myself and reality that are unpleasant, I know I can’t. Not really.
Even if I left my wife, the depth and breadth of our relationship has changed me, and I would be aware, not only of those parts of me I was going to try to re-hide from the world, but of what I was missing. I’d be aware that the moments spent falling asleep together were far richer than any late night I might have at a bar. I’d forever know that the feel of my daughter’s skin on my lips just once was a pleasure no number of cigarettes could match. I’d always have imprinted on my memory the board games and the “clean-the-house” days and the car rides whose mundanity still surpassed in rich beauty anything that brief encounters with any number of women could touch.
Just as my wife has forever changed me in a way that even leaving her couldn’t undo, so has He. So has prayer.
Even if I gave up trying to become “good” at prayer, if I stopped making it a priority, if I stopped encouraging others to do it as well, I would always be aware of what I was missing. I think I would even feel guilty, but it wouldn’t be guilt in the sense of “you’re not doing what you should”; it would be guilt in the sense of “you left behind the Love of your Life, even after all the joy they gave you”.
I couldn’t go back, because I am not who I was. And I don’t want to be.
I want to be with Him, I want to become like Him, I want to see Him in all the people and moments that fill my life, because every time I’ve taken a step in that direction, even the difficult ones, I’ve been surprised by the swell of life that sweeps me into His current.
And I want to keep praying, because encountering Jesus in personal prayer, along with a life filled with His sacramental grace, is what has made this washing in joy possible. I can’t stop, not without losing myself, and when I think about what I’ve left behind since embarking on my journey with Christ, I find it to be crumbs from the crust of the feast I am just now beginning to taste.