Awake and Arise – Become Prayer

“Let us be attentive.”

“Awake o sleeper.”

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St Gregory of Sinai“What is prayer? After offering a long series of definitions, Gregory concludes with the simple yet memorable words: ‘And why speak at length? Prayer is God, who works all things in all men.’ Prayer is God: in the deepest and fullest sense prayer is not our own action but the action of Another in us. It is not we who by our own unaided efforts gather our mind within our heart in prayer, but the indwelling Paraclete; and without him we can achieve nothing. ‘No one of himself can control his mind, unless he is controlled by the Spirit.’

True prayer, then, is the prayer offered in us by the Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Gregory develops this point in a specifically sacramental way, observing: ‘Prayer is the manifestation of Baptism’ (βαπτίσματος φανέρωσις). Since prayer is the action of God within us, and since it is through the sacrament of Baptism that God comes to dwell in our hearts, it follows that prayer is essentially the discovery and disclosure of baptismal grace. Our aim in the life of prayer is to bring to light this divine presence within us, to remove the obstacles of sin so that the grace of Baptism may become fully ‘active’ in our heart. Prayer, then, is to become what we already are, to gain what we already possess, to come face to face with the One who dwells even now within our innermost self. The whole range of the ascetic and mystical life is con­tained, by anticipation, within the sacrament of Baptism.

Such is Gregory’s basic orientation. Prayer is God within us – God who dwells in our hearts through Baptism; to pray is to pass from the stage of baptismal grace present in our hearts secretly and unconsciously, to the point of full perception and conscious awareness when we feel the activity of grace directly and immediately. (“The Jesus Prayer in St Gregory of Sinai,”May 11, 1972, Kallistos (Ware), Metropolitan)

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The greatest part of mankind, nay of Christians, may be said to be asleep; and that particular way of life, which takes up each man’s mind, thoughts, and actions, may be very well called his particular  dream. This degree of vanity is equally visible in every form and   order of life. The learned and the ignorant, the rich and the poor, are all in the same state of slumber, only passing away a short life in a different kind of dream. But why so? It is because man has an eternity within him, is born into this world, not for the  sake of living here, not for anything this world can give him, but only to have time and place, to become either an eternal partaker of a divine life with God, or to have an hellish eternity among fallen angels: and therefore, every man who has not his eye, his heart, and his hands, continually governed by this twofold eternity, may justly be said to be fast asleep, to have no awakened  sensibility of himself. And a life devoted to the interests and enjoyments of this world, spent and wasted in the slavery of earthly desires, may be truly called a dream; as having all the shortness, vanity, and delusion of a dream; only with this great difference, that when a dream is over, nothing is lost but fictions and fancies; but when the dream of life is ended only by death, all that eternity is lost for which we were brought into being. Now there is no misery in this world, nothing that makes either the life or death of man to be full of calamity, but this blindness and insensibility of his state, into which william lawhe so willingly, nay obstinately plunges himself. Everything that has the nature of evil and distress in it takes its rise from hence. Do but suppose a man to know himself, that he comes into this world on no other errand, but to rise out of the vanity of time into the riches of eternity;  do but suppose him to govern his inward thoughts and outward actions by this view of himself, and then to him every day has lost all its evil; prosperity and adversity have no difference, because he receives and uses them both in the same spirit; life and death are equally welcome, because equally parts of his way to eternity.  For poor and miserable as this life is, we have all of us free access to all that is great, and good, and happy, and carry within ourselves a key to all the treasures that heaven has to bestow upon  us. We starve in the midst of plenty, groan under infirmities, with the remedy in our own hand; live and die without knowing and feeling anything of the one, only good, whilst we have it in our power to know and enjoy it in as great a reality, as we know and feel the power of this world over us: for heaven is as near to our souls, as this world is to our bodies; and we are created, we are redeemed, to have our conversation in it. God, the only good of all intelligent natures, is not an absent or distant God, but is more present in and to our souls, than our own bodies; and we are strangers to heaven, and without God in the world, for this only reason, because we are void of that spirit of prayer, which alone can, and never fails to unite us with the one, only good, and to open heaven and the kingdom of God within us. A root set in the finest soil, in the best climate, and blessed with all that sun, and air, and rain can do for it, is not in so sure a way of its growth to perfection, as every man may be, whose spirit aspires after all that, which God is ready and infinitely desirous to give him. For the sun meets not the springing bud that stretches towards him with half that certainty, as God, the source of all good, communicates himself to the soul that longs to partake of him.

We are all of us, by birth, the offspring of God, more nearly related to him than we are to one another; for in him we live, and move, and have our being. The first man that was brought forth from God had the breath and spirit of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, breathed into him, and so he became a living soul. Thus was our first father born of God, descended from him, and stood in paradise in the image and likeness of God. He was the image and likeness of God, not with any regard to his outward shape or form, for no shape has any likeness  to God; but he was in the image and likeness of God, because the  Holy Trinity had breathed their own nature and spirit into him. And  as the Deity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are always in heaven,  and make heaven to be everywhere, so this spirit, breathed by them  into man, brought heaven into man along with it; and so man was in heaven, as well as on earth, that is, in paradise, which signifies  an heavenly state, or birth of life.

…Awake then, thou that Sleepest, and Christ, who from all  Eternity has been espoused to thy Soul, shall give Thee Light. Begin to search and dig in thine own Field for this Pearl of Eternity, that lieth hidden in it; it cannot cost  Thee too much, nor canst thou buy it too dear, for it is All, and when thou has  found it, thou wilt know, that all which thou hast sold or given away for it, is as mere a  Nothing, as a Bubble upon the Water. (The Spirit of Prayer, Treating of Some Matters preparatory to the Spirit of Prayer & Chapter 1, 2-10, William Law)

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