praying with eyes open and three men in a boat

Continuing my journey along the  River Thames with “Three men in a Boat” I came to this passage

The Cistercian monks, whose abbey stood there in the thirteenth century, wore no clothes but rough tunics and cowls, and ate no flesh, nor fish, nor eggs. They lay upon straw, and they rose at midnight to mass. They spent the day in labour, reading, and prayer; and over all their lives there fell a silence as of death, for no one spoke.

A grim fraternity, passing grim lives in that sweet spot, that God had made so bright! Strange that Nature’s voices all around them – the soft singing of the waters, the whisperings of the river grass, the music of the rushing wind – should not have taught them a truer meaning of life than this. They listened there, through the long days, in silence, waiting for a voice from heaven; and all day long and through the solemn night it spoke to them in myriad tones, and they heard it not.
Jerome K. Jerome

This called to mind a chapter in a Eugene Peterson book that talks about Annie Dillard, John Calvin and the wonder of creation

There are two great mystical traditions in the life of prayer, sometimes labeled kataphatic and apophatic. Kataphatic prayer uses icons, symbols, ritual, incense; the creation is the way to the Creator. Apophatic prayer attempts emptiness; the creature distracts from the Creator, and so the mind is systematically emptied of idea, image, sensation until there is only the simplicity of being. Kataphatic prayer is ‘praying with your eyes open’; apophatic prayer is ‘praying with your eyes shut. At our balanced best, the two traditions intermingle, mix, and cross-fertilize. But we are not always at our best. The Western church is heavily skewed on the side of the apophatic. The rubric for prayer when I was a child was ‘Fold your hands, bow your head, shut your eyes, and we’ll pray.’ My early training carries over into my adult practice. Most of my praying still is with my eyes shut. I need balancing.
Eugene Peterson, The Gift

That certainly rings true with my experience of Protestant Christianity, the closing of eyes and bowing of the head each time we pray in church to block out the distractions of the world.

When we do that we are less distracted by worldly things and can concentrate on the spiritual. Yet it all seems very gnostic or something and in a way is saying that the things that we see with our eyes are corrupted and on a lesser plane than the things we think or have in our heart.

There is something wrong there.

On the other hand, praying with your eyes open might be easy in the wilds of Donegal or looking down the valleys of Switzerland in spring but how do you pray in Lambeg or Lisburn on a wet, windy dark January night when you’re feeling low and frustrated with life? For me that has been a puzzle that I haven’t cracked in my time here. How to pray with eyes open beside the Lagan Tow path when the hawthorns are closing in on you and you have only a moorhen for company.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s