Prayer and Our Deepest Desires, A Spiritual Reflection (Part 1)
In an article from Ignatian Spirituality, “Why Do We Pray?” Jesuit Father William A. Barry, S.J. provides some insights.
Some of us pray for utilitarian reasons. We want something from God. We ask God to assist us for physical or psychological health reasons. Maybe we need help with relationships of finances.
Father Barry admits that he prays for utilitarian reasons. He writes:
Most of my prayers of petition ask for some good result, either for me or for someone else or for all people. Moreover, I feel contented when I remember in prayer the people who mean much to me, even if my prayer is not answered. I notice, too, that I feel better about myself when I pray regularly. I feel more centered, more in tune with the present, less anxious about the past or the future. So I suspect that I do pray for the purpose of psychological or physical health.
But is that all there is?
First of all, prayer is about a relationship with God. Barry surmises that time spent in prayer parallels time spent with friends or people we love. He says, “If we have not had good conversations with close friends for some time, I feel out of sorts, somewhat lonely, and ill at ease. When I am with good friends, I feel more whole and alive.”
But reasons have to be deeper. “Feeling better” cannot be the only reason for time spent with friends or God. Fr. Barry says that,
I am genuinely interested in and concerned for them. The beneficial effect that being with them has on me is a happy by-product. Moreover, I have often spent time with friends when it cost me trouble and time. A close friend was ill or depressed and the time with them was painful and difficult but I did it because they wanted my presence. Such time spent cannot be explained on utilitarian grounds. We spend that time because we love our friend for his or her own sake and for the reason that we love these people.
Barry says that we can also examine this from the reverse perspective:
There are times when we need the presence of close friends because we are in pain or lonely. Friendship would not be a mutual affair if we were always the ones who gave and never were open to receive. If we are not totally egocentric, we will have to admit that we do care for others for their own sakes, and not just for what we can get from the relationship. We spend time with our friends because of our mutual care and love. Can we say the same thing about our relationship with God?
Next week we will continue examining prayer from this Ignatian perspective by looking at “Prayer and Our Desires.”