There is an image from early America that flashes across my mind whenever I think of contemplation or meditation. It is an image of a pioneer hacking down trees, trying to make a small clearing in the wilderness, a clearing for living and planting, a place where things will grow.
That is what one who prays must do, make out of the maze of daily living a small clearing where he or she can be at peace, where God can plant the seed of God’s Word, where the prayer can watch things grow. It is a task as difficult as subduing the wilderness and it is never finished because the wilderness constantly creeps in again with weeds and undergrowth that threaten to choke out what was cultivated with so much care. But this clearing in the woods is necessary if one is ever to learn the art of prayer.
How this clearing is achieved is as individual as we are. And the woods themselves have a fascination that often prevents us from even wanting a clearing. As the poet Robert Frost says, “The woods are lovely, dark, and deep.”
I never seem to learn to pray, Lord, so I take a pen in hand and hope these few lines will help hold you. You are always near, but I somehow drift away, caught up in my own preoccupied self. I’m always preparing to meet something you would take care of for me if only I let you, if only I would trust you. I am your own poor instrument. Take me up in your presence and show me what to do, for I am so ignorant of what I should do, of what you want me to do; I look everywhere for signs of your will that fit my own. They never substitute for your own voice deep inside my heart.
The way the wind sounded
In the trees last night
Reminded me again
Of other nights that now
In memory are full of light.
Contemplative prayer is possible only where there is quiet and where there is time that is unhurried. Quiet and time. Both are more internal than external. I must be quiet on the inside and the time I take out for prayer must be time for “wasting” time.
This attitude of mind is not easy to acquire, for always there is something more important to do, or there is something gnawing away at my attention, and try as I may, I just can’t become quiet inside. And yet if I continue trying to attain this kind of tranquility, it happens from time to time like a sweet gift from heaven, that I am caught up in the silence and timelessness of God.