From illusion to prayer

In 1975 Henri Nouwen (1932-1996) wrote Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life. One movement is from illusion to prayer. I expected a movement from illusion to truth, but over time I’ve come to see Nouwen’s wisdom in charting our movement from illusion to prayer.

Prayer disabuses us of our illusions. Prayer is disillusionment. Thomas Merton (1915-1968) called us to live into our true self rather than our false self–trying to be someone or something we aren’t. Sometimes reluctantly, sometimes wholeheartedly, prayer plunges us into Reality.

We can be quite comfortable with, and attached to, our illusions, so movement away from illusion can seem radical, unsettling and subversive. The most prayerful people often seem irreligious because they ignore “lesser gods” that may be very popular. Jesus was subversive in this way, and he was accused of blasphemy, which is like being called an atheist.

Prayer is being conscious or attentive. Prayer breaks through the world’s illusions that distort Reality. Prayer exposes dualisms that falsely try to divide us into good vs. evil, religious vs. secular, or sacred vs. profane, etc.

Prayer isn’t about being sufficiently religious (which often is a matter of style or vocabulary). Prayer is about being graciously useful on planet earth. Prayer is reporting for duty. It’s the most important work we can do, but it may not always seem religious (to others) or feel religious (to you).

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