by Catherine Doherty.
Have you ever heard a shepherd’s flute in Scotland or in Jerusalem? It is so haunting, so enticing, so irresistible that you have to follow the sound and go see where it comes from. The Good Shepherd’s flute is constantly playing. If we close our ears to it, life will be miserable indeed.
There is a strange, inexplicable restlessness that we all have felt at one time or another. We have restless feet, restless hearts, hearts that are angry and disturbed, hearts that reject the other, hearts that seek but never find.
Praise be to God if we continue to search, but too often we are satisfied with less than the real desire of our hearts.
What is it, fundamentally, that we all seek? Fundamentally, we are seeking God. He is the only one who can quench our thirst and still our restlessness.
Prayer is the passionate desire of a human being to become one with God. It is the slow discovery that in order to reach this union, one must be dispossessed of his very self.
There is a deep mystery to all this, and I am not good at probing mysteries. I wait for God to explain them, if he so wishes, or else I accept them without explanation. Patience is the key.
Day after day, hour after hour, we come to realize the price of this union with God. The images of courtship and marriage in the Bible warn us of this, for love and marriage inevitably bring pain. We don’t often think of it that way, but it is so.
Where there is love, there is pain. Whatever our walk in life, this kind of pain is God’s way of teaching us how to pray. Everything that happens to us spiritually, everything that causes us to grow, will bring us closer to God if we say yes.
Spiritual growth doesn’t come from what we do, necessarily. Sometimes it comes from simply sitting and seeing the shambles of what we tried to accomplish, from watching what was seemingly God’s work go to pot. You can’t do anything about it but watch.
This happened to me. I knew dimly then what I see more clearly today—that this was the moment when God really picked me up and said, "Now I am offering you the union you seek. The other side of my cross is empty. Come, be nailed upon it. This is our marriage bed."
All we can answer in response to that invitation, is, "Help me, God! I don’t have the courage to climb on this cross."
Not only does God give us the grace to believe and to ask for help, but he also draws us to himself. His own desire pulls us toward himself until the two desires meet.
The prayer of man and the desire of God come together in one brief moment of union, which only whets our desire for more.
It is an insatiable taste of what we seek, and it will give us the courage to say yes to the next devastating situation that comes along, the next stepping stone to union on the cross that the Carpenter has fashioned for each one of us individually.
The act of praying, like the act of love, involves movement and effort. You don’t pray like a robot any more than you make love like one.
Prayer is movement, stretching, seeking, holding, finding only to seek again.
Prayer is walking up to an abyss, looking down, and being unable to see the bottom, for there is none. You spend years balancing on the edge, almost jumping in, then retreating.
At some moment, the hunger becomes too great and the thirst too flaming. You jump. You jump into the abyss, only to discover that there is no abyss, only God and the depth of his love for you.
For a moment, you catch your breath in his arms. Then once again, because he loves you, he seems to elude you, so that again you might go forth to seek him.
Prayer is constant movement. Strangely enough, it is movement into oneself where the Trinity dwells. That’s why dispossession has to come from within, for the obstacles that separate us from God are never outside us.
Dispossession is like taking a broom to one’s inner being to clear out everything that keeps us from being united to God.
If I ask myself what paradise is, I think it must be that recognition of the Christ who has always dwelt within me. Death will be the breaking of the barrier between myself and the indwelling Trinity. Then I shall know that I was always united with God, that he was always with me.
However, I don’t have to wait for death. I am not trying to reach some distant star.
What matters is that God is in me and that I follow the Shepherd’s flute.
—Excerpted and adapted from Soul of My Soul, (2006), pp. 29-34, available from Madonna House Publications
If you enjoy our articles, we ask you to please consider subscribing to the print edition of Restoration; it's only $10 a year, and will help us stay in print. Thanks, and God bless you!