Why Prayer is Easy

It seems that the driving question at the heart of humanity is the repeated question, “who am I?” Even more basic than questions of purpose, the “who” question resonates with us all. We answer it in various ways: physical entities, rational souls, relational beings. Then, we live out of what we believe is most natural to us. If we are simply bodies, body image and exercise take precedence. If we are living in a dog-eat-dog world of evolutionary principles, then being a successful leader may become the answer to who we believe we are.

Turn my Darkness into Light

What does any understanding of our fundamental nature have to do with prayer? Christians have a unique understanding about human nature. Yes, we confess that we are flawed and utterly broken human beings, but we also remember that we are created for dialogue with the Divine – that thing that we call prayer. When we realize that prayer is the most basic thing to our nature, our attitude towards it changes.

Hans Urs von Balthasar puts it beautifully when he writes:

“Man was created to be a hearer of the word, and it is in responding to the word that he attains his true dignity…Man is the creature with a mystery in his heart that is bigger than himself. He is built like a tabernacle around a most sacred mystery…Certainly, in the sinner, this sanctuary is neglected and forgotten, like an overgrown tomb or an attic choked with rubbish, and it needs an effort – the effort of contemplative prayer – to clean it up and make it habitable for the divine Guest. But the room itself does not need to be built: it is already there and always has been, at the very center of man.”
-Hans Urs von Balthasar, Prayer, 22-23. (you can find the extended quote here)

Balthasar suggests that what is most fundamental to us is prayer itself. Most of us, especially in the midst of praying, don’t feel this. We identify more strongly with our severe inadequacy, our inability to focus on the Lord in the midst of swirling emotions and thoughts. Prayer becomes a time in which we reflect on our very struggle to pray. Yet, through this, Balthasar’s words remind us: we are tabernacles built around a most sacred mystery.

This is the Christian answer to “who am I?” It changes the way we think of prayer. It isn’t that prayer should be like breathing (something we hear often enough in the guilt-inducing sermon); it’s that prayer is like breathing for the Christian. It is the most natural thing in the world.

Perhaps we need to stop striving so hard, and just be, here at the feet of Jesus, the most natural place in the world. There we are experiencing the one necessary thing, the Divine dialogue, the thing that resonates in the deepest places of our heart. May we come a little closer to realizing and experiencing that, by the Father’s grace, the Son’s work and the Spirit’s power.

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7 thoughts on “Why Prayer is Easy

  1. Wonderful quotation. Prayer has remained at the top of my “spiritual disciplines to grow in” list for many years… always good to have more perspectives and encouragement in this area 🙂

    1. If you enjoyed this, I’d highly recommend the rest of Balthasar’s book on Prayer (mind you this is a recommendation coming with only 100 pages read). He’s certainly a Catholic theologian, but there is so much gold packed in there!

  2. Thanks Matt, for the meditation and the affirmation of prayer and the Christian life. I needed it. Here’s a follow up question that has bothered me for the longest time. I now realize that there are more types of prayer than simply asking for things (though those are good). But why do we ask God for things if He knows better than we do and loves and desires more than we can? Is it simply that God allows us to affect the outcome of history through our prayers? Also, how do you pray?

    1. Wow, that’s a big question Gabe! Thanks for bringing it up. I’m going to refrain from giving some thoughts here and shoot you an email instead!

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