Book Notes: Beginning to Pray: The Absence of God

Beginning to PrayBeginning to Pray,
by Anthony Bloom

Paulist Press, 1970

This is an excellent short book on the correct basic attitudes to enter the prayer of the heart.
Bishop Anthony’s style is very straightforward and easily accessible, yet he goes deep into the spiritual experience.
I read this book a few decades ago in French, then recently in English. As soon as I finished it, I decide to reread it again, to better understand how he connects his ideas.
I will do a few posts on this book, to share my favorite passages in each part.

Introduction – interview with Timothy Wilson

Said by Anthony’s own father:

What matters is what you live for,
and what you are prepared to die for.
p. 5

Echoed by Father Anthony later:

I suddenly discovered that if happiness is aimless, it’s unbearable.
I could not accept aimless happiness.
p. 8

Standing before God, face to face, and simply being with God.
p. 13

Isn’t it what prayer simply is, ideally? Present to His presence, begin to His being.

The Absence of God
When we are aware of God, prayer is easy.
But the problem is when God seems to be absent – He is never absent.
What to do then?

A few things to remember first, a few things to be aware of:

  1. Prayer is an encounter, a relationship.
    It cannot be forced on us or on God,
    A relationship with a living person must begin and develop in mutual freedom.
    God could complain for all the ties we are to busy to answer when He knocks, or even to hear His knocking.
    So we have no right to complain, as we are much more absent that He is.
  2. A meeting face to face with God is always a moment of judgment.
    We cannot meet God in prayer and not be saved/condemned.
    It is a critical moment. A crisis, ie a judgment.
    So we might not be able to endure such a meeting all the time.
    So when we don’t feel His presence, we should be grateful He doesn’t come in an untimely way, not when it would man condemnation for us.
  3. When we ignore Him, we are like the soldiers at His crucifixion. So we can only go to Him in repentance, broken-hearted.
  4. We often want more something from Him, not Him at all.
    We don’t behave with Him like with friends.
    Our prayer is intense when we pray Him for somebody we love.
    So He doesn’t matter so much to us. It makes sense then that we would feel Him as absent, because we are absent and grow cold.
  5. He seems absent also when we try to be what we are not, when we are unreal. Our unreal presence cannot be approached by God.
  6. To pray, we must be in the situation which is defined as the Kingdom of God, we must recognize Him as God, and surrender to Him, concerned with His will.
    We are too often like the rich young man, not prepared to sell all for Him.
    He cannot be just part of our life, but all of it.
    So we blame Him and praise ourselves, even for begin patient with Him!

So to pray, start with the certainty that:

  1. we are outside the Kingdom (hence the knocking)
  2. we are sinners in need of salvation
  3. we are cut off from Him
  4. we cannot live without Him
  5. all we can offer is our desperate longing to be made such that He will receive us

Prayer is a shy turning towards Him, like the Publican, expecting for unexpected mercy.

“My power is manifest in weakness“.
Weak= supple, completely transparent, abandoned in the hands of God, like a frail sail in the wind – the frailty of surrender.
Like trodden earth (cf. humus, humility): silent, accepting everything, where all the refuse can miraculously become new life.

When we are really aware of being outside the Kingdom, we can start to look for the door to knock at to enter.

Any reflection on these quotes?

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