For at least a few years now, I have had a place in my house dedicated to morning prayer. In the early days of this practice of mine, I would set my alarm 10 minutes earlier, turn on the computer, spend a few moments with the scripture readings of the day. I’d quiet my mind long enough for a word or two to touch my heart. Gradually, this practice grew to 20 minutes, and shifted to a comfortable little chair in the corner of the den. Here, I claimed a short length of bookshelf, on which I placed my meager collection of spiritual books. I began to read a paragraph or two from spiritual authors I had never heard of before, like Luis Martinez (who wrote about the holy spirit), Esther de Waal (who focused on Benedictine spirituality), Henri Nouwen, Joyce Rupp, or M Basil Pennington. From this comfortable spot, as I contemplated scripture, reflected on God’s grace, and hungered for more, I would watch as the horizon began to brighten slowly, sometimes brilliant shades of red, orange, and purple, or sometimes the grey of an early morning rain shower.
Eventually, my prayer space moved from a corner of the den to the guest room, and the 5-10 spiritual books grew to a collection that filled a small bookcase. In some ways, the growth of my spiritual reading speaks to my spiritual hunger. Surely, one more book about the spiritual life would enlighten me so that I would understand God. Surely, one more spiritual master’s experience of God would allow me to figure God out… to know all there is to know… to understand fully the mystery.
The reality is, as I’m sure you know, each time I sit down for prayer in the morning, I only begin to understand the depth of the mystery. And yet, as the mystery of God grows in my awareness, God graces me with the thirst for more.
Recently, my prayer space has shifted once again. Same room, different arrangement. I moved my chair so that I can see the sky brighten in the morning without turning my head. Outside the window, an old oak tree’s branches fill the frame, and as the sun rises, its leaves light up with brilliant shades of ethereal green, as if illumined from the inside. Towards the bottom of the view, a young, nearly perfect, flowering cherry tree stretches its branches in a futile attempt to catch up to the scruffy, weathered old oak. Mentally, I root this cherry tree on, knowing full well that it will never be as tall (or have as much character) as the old oak.
So it is, sometimes, with the spiritual life. We reach for the heavens by following the example of the wise and learned. And yet we must be like children, with a sense of wonder. Sometimes, we need to shift our focus and look past the window frame to the sky that brightens on the horizon. Always, we must pray for the grace to embrace the mystery.