Munich, 18th December 2011
Sometime I ask to my self, “what a prayer is ?”
First of all, in order to briefly explain about what a prayer is, I will explain you about what a prayer is NOT ? I will tell you a story : Once upon a time in the stone-age, a man discovered way of making FIRE. Having invented it, he headed to the north, where there were tribes in high snowy mountains, and he began to teach them his fire-making skill. He showed them the value of warming themselves in the winter, cooking their food, and using fire in construction. And they learned enthusiastically. As soon as they learned, the inventor of the art went somewhere else without giving them time to say thank him, because he was a great man.
Great people do not need to be remembered or shown gratitude. So he vanished and went on to another tribe. And there he began to teach them to make fire. That tribe also became enthusiastic, and he went on becoming more and more famous.
Then the priests, fearing that their own popularity would decline, decided to get rid of him, and so they poisoned him. But to prevent the people from becoming suspicious, the priests did this : they put up a picture of the man ; they put it on the highest altar in the temple and told the people venerate the great inventor of fire. They also had all the fire-making tools put on the highest altar for everyone to worship. They developed a ritual and a whole liturgy for venerating the tools and the inventor of the art of making fire. Veneration and adoration were passed on for decades and decades, centuries and centuries, but there was no fire. Where is the prayer? In the fire! Where is the fire? In prayer! There it is! What you have done to find the fire is prayer. You pray for weeks, months, and years, and there is no fire. No prayer, no prayer. Lots of good will, but no prayer.
“What do you call me Lord, Lord, and do not do what I say? And you will come and say : “Lord, we did miracles in your name’, and I will say to you : I do not know you, I am not interested!” He was less interested in the “Lord, Lord” than in us. He was more interested in “why you do not do what I say?” But, we have to be careful of this : Do not think that your good works are necessarily prayer. “If I hand over my body to be burned and all my goods to feed the poor, and do not have love, it will all be in vain.” Some good works are really good, and others are corrupt.
Master Eckhart, the great German mystic, say, “You should be less concerned about what you have to do and think more about what you must be. For if your being is good, your work will be of great value.” It is being that must be transformed; that is where the fire is!
How are you going to transform your being? What will you do? Nothing! In order to be transformed, you have to see. See something that transforms you. No one is changed by working on herself or himself. You know how to fix lots of things, and that is a great gift, but if you try to fix persons you will run into problems. You do not have to fix anything; you have to see things in a new way. Change comes from seeing. Metanoia, repentance, for the reign of God has arrived! Repentance does not mean weeping over sins; repentance means looking at everything in a new way. Change of idea, transformation of the heart. Like the man who said to his wife, “I have changed my mind” And she said,“Thank God, I hope the new one works better!”. There you have it! Literally another mind, another way of looking at things. A new way of seeing everything. That is the transformation we are talking about.
When that happens, you will change. Your works will change, and so will your life. That is the fire! How do you need to see things in a new way? There is no need for strength, no need to be useful, no need to be self-confident, no strength of will, no effort. What is needed is good will to think about what is not customary, good will to see something new. And that is the last thing that human beings want. People do not want to see anything different from what they have always seen. That is why Jesus had so many problems when he came with his Good News. People do not like to hear about good things. We want to suffer, we want to feel miserable, in order not to know. We unconsciously desire to cause suffering. We do not like the good part of the Good News, and we do not like the new part of the Good News.
Are you ready to see things in another way? Pay attention : do not accept everything I am saying just because I am saying it; that won’t do any good. Do not swallow anything from me. I am very fond of Buddha’s words, “Monks and disciples ought not to accept my words out of respect” What has to be done is like what the goldsmith does with the gold : polishing, scrapping, cutting, and mixing. That is the way to do things. You have to stay open, receptive, and always able to question, to think for yourselves. Otherwise you fall into mental laziness. We do not want that.
Taken from : Anthony de Mello (Walking on Water)