Dear brothers and sisters in Christ. God was indeed willing and so I greet you as I travel, with Internet access being less consistent than at home. My travels are a pilgrimage of sorts and I welcome this opportunity to pray with you as my eyes are opened to see God in new ways.
As we begin Chapter 2, you will notice that there is more text by Fr. Matta between Sayings of the Fathers. It is rich text, so I am approaching it in segments lest we fail to savor even the smallest bite.
Fr. Matta begins with two Scriptural quotes from Paul’s letters to the Corinthians about beholding the Lord. Then, for the first time, he offers us the words of a saint in these preliminary reflections. St. John of Dalyatha was born in Iraq in the 8th century. After 7 years in a community, he received permission to live the remainder of his life in solitude in the mountains of Dalyatha.
1. St. Paul writes of now seeing dimly, but eventually seeing God face to face, and how we are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another. Have you experienced a sense of God changing you, moving you through different degrees of faith and prayer through your life to bring you closer?
2. St. John of Dalyatha, though apparently writing of the angels, could well be writing of us. In your life movement toward God, have you ever discovered that what you thought at the time was a good place was barely a beginning?
Fr. Matta describes the degrees of prayer as vocal and mental, with mental prayer including meditation (or discursive prayer) and contemplation. Contemplation then, he writes, is of two types, acquired and infused. The latter is a gift from God, something that can never be deserved regardless of the degree of preparation made. Fr. Marta indicates that it is difficult to divide prayer into degrees because “they are united by a strong bond”.
1. What do you think this bond is?
2. Why do you think he makes the division anyway? Is is useful?
Many of us in western culture have been raised to be linear thinkers, i.e. to view our path as necessarily moving in a straight line from beginning to end. Yet, Fr. Matta makes it clear that each type of prayer is “a special degree”. Hence, contemplation is not “better” than vocal prayer.
1. How can this be? Are we not to “advance” in prayer? Why do you think he makes this point?
2. Do you ever find yourself comparing yourself, favorably or unfavorably, to others in your “degree” of prayer? Or feel like you have regressed when a seemingly more advanced way of praying dries up for you?
3. Why might God choose to give the gift of infused contemplation to some and not to others? How do we respond to not receiving a gift that others may have in prayer?
(I will pause here. Typing into my phone is not so easy, so please forgive any typos or formatting issues. Blessings to all as we reflect and pray together.)