Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Uncurious George

(Humor me while I go off on a political rant. This should get it out of my system for a while, though.)

Frankly, I’m having trouble with my politics these days. Years ago, I suffered a tragic accident in a voting booth. Yes, that’s right—as an impressionable young college student, I cast my first vote for Jimmy Carter. My complicity in the resulting horror of his administration has scarred my political life. I went the Libertarian route for a while, but found refuge in the GOP by Reagan’s second term. Here I discovered a respect for tradition and an acceptable mix of idealism and pragmatism. But my heroes in the conservative movement were people like Bill Buckley and Russell Kirk—hardly icons for today’s GOP.

A short list of my peeves regarding the Republican Party would include the following:

• A foreign policy seemingly crafted in equal parts by Pat Robertson, Benjamin Netanyahu and Daffy Duck
• Sporadic attention to our ever-looming energy crisis
• Tom Delay
• Fiscal irresponsibility
• No commitment to a policy of natural conservation
• Tom Delay
• Tax-cutting seen as the highest virtue
• The leader of the Free World who cannot string 3 coherent sentences together, who drops the “g” off the end of words and insists of saying “gonna” instead of “going to,” regardless of the audience
• Slavish patronization of the religious conservative base by emphasizing hot-button issues, with little real attention to the fundamentals that maintain societal stability
• And of course, Tom Delay

And yet, every time I am tempted to stray off the reservation, Jimmy Carter and/or Al Gore will give another speech, and I will scurry back—aghast at what I’ve heard. In fact, I’ve taken to calling myself an “Al Gore Republican.” But beyond these two no-class acts, I have real problems with the Dems, as well. Their short list would include:

• Elevation of the so-called “Woman’s Right to Choose” as a religious article of faith, from which there can be NO dissent
• The politics of racial polarization
• Jimmy Carter and/or Al Gore
• A party that still thinks it is running against Herbert Hoover
• Naiveté on all levels—cultural, political, economic, religious, diplomatic
• Jimmy Carter and/or Al Gore
• A party that actually expects you to believe the simplistic platitudes offered as policy
• Judicial litmus tests
• A party that professes that there can be no such thing as gay rights short of an absolute societal acceptance of gay marriage
• Shameless pandering to their special interest groups
• Demagoguery
• Smug self-righteousness
• And of course, Jimmy Carter and/or Al Gore (Oddly enough, the Clintons don’t bother me much. Go figure.)

Our options remind me of Jeeves’ characterization of Bertie Wooster’s Aunts Vera and Agatha as being caught between Scylla and Charybdis--godawful choices on either side.

These morose sentiments are not helped by the 2 books I’ve recently finished reading: Robert Fisk’s The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East and George Packer’s The Assassin’s Gate. Each addresses the on-going conflict in the Middle East. Bush supporters will find little comfort in either.

Fisk has been a Middle East correspondent for the Independent for over 30 years and has lived in Beirut since 1975. He knows everybody and has interviewed everybody from Osama to Saddam to Sharon to you-name-it. His work weighs in at about 1100 pages—a wide-ranging, impassioned and almost obsessive effort to tell the whole story. From the Armenian Genocide, to the Western overthrow of the democratic Persian government of 1953, to Nasser, to Algeria, the Jewish-Palestinian conflict from the initial occupation of Palestine, Jordan, Syria, the Saudis, and of course Iraq—it’s all there. One finds the speeches of the French commander in Algeria in 1830, the British commander in Mesopotamia in 1920 and Cheney/Rumsfield in 2003 to be eerily and depressingly similar. Fisk’s account is marred somewhat—perhaps in desperation--when he succumbs to a shrill screed against Bush in the last 150 pages or so. This is unfortunate as it distracts from the legitimate points he has to make. Packer’s book focuses solely on Iraq and is, on the whole, a little more balanced.

Reading these accounts (and others) reinforce a number of recurring truths.

• First, our disfavor in much of the Middle East is not because of our “freedom,” as politicians are fond of stating. That is just silly. Nor is it necessarily because of our decadence—though here they would certainly have good reason. They oppose us because of our policies, pure and simple. Not just the policies of this administration, but the on-going heavy-handedness of the Western powers, going all the way back to the days of the English and French colonialists. (Mind you, I am NOT an apologist for the Islamic world; far from it. But that doesn’t justify our own bone-headedness.)
• Second, our eventual invasion of Iraq was a foregone conclusion from the first days of the Bush administration, come hell or high-water.
• Finally, there was not a lack of intelligence going into the Iraqi war. It was there. But if the data differed from the “game plan,” if it contradicted the set world view of the decision-makers, then it was discounted or never saw the light of day. President Bush, with absolute surety, seemed taken aback when the occasional piece of real information permeated the protective bubble around him.

This brings me (finally) to what is sticking in my craw about President Bush; namely this singular lack of curiosity about the world. I think it is instructive that in his pre-political life, Bush never traveled (summering in Kennebuckport doesn’t count). I find this odd. With family money and connections, he was positioned to be as informed and experienced in the world as anyone could be. Yet, he doesn’t seem to have availed himself of this opportunity. Bush is certainly comfortable in his own skin, self-assured in his worldview. This can be a good thing: backbone and resolve are needed in a time of crisis. But we also need intelligence and perception.

So what is the solution? There is none, of course. I’m reminded of a line from one of my favorite movies, “Situation hopeless, but not serious.”

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Help Needed!

As a relatively new blogger (going on 4 months), I will be the first to admit that I am somewhat at sea here on the technology end of things. I seem to have a problem with the left side of my blog template. Notice how the links get smaller and smaller as you go down the page. A magnifying glass is needed by the time you get to some of the lower links (sorry about that, Jared). I want to add more, but I won't if they are going to be that small.

I have checked the template and everything seems to be entered the same. Any suggestions out there?

Friday, February 24, 2006

Current Reading List

I have a bad habit of trying to read too many books at the same time. My current list includes:

The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East by Robert Fisk

The Mountain of Silence: A Search for Orthodox Spirituality by Kyriacos C. Markides

First Fruits of Prayer: A Forty-Day Journey Through the Canon of St. Andrew by Frederica Mathewes-Green

No Man is an Island by Thomas Merton

The Philokalia (Volume I) compiled by St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain

The Assassin's Gate by George Packer

Orthodox Saints (Volume I) by George Poulas

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Birds Without Wings

Several of the blogs linked here (Prochoros, Pontifications, This is Life) have, in recent days, posted stories about the continuing Turkish pressure on the few remaining Orthodox Christians in Turkey. About 2,000 Greek Christians hang on in Istanbul, and their future, as well as that of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, does not look hopeful.

Within the memory of some, Istanbul teemed with Christians. And not only that, but Christians lived throughout Anatolia as they had for 1900 years. But no longer. In fact, they are now so completely gone that the Turkish nationalists have nearly achieved their goal of eradicating any memory that they were ever there. Lest we Americans take too much comfort in our own triumphalism, let us soberly contemplate that this was, more so than anywhere else, the Christian heartland.

One of the best works of literature I read in 2005 was Louis de Berniers' Birds Without Wings. With great sympathy and affection, the author relates the story of a simple village in southwestern Asia Minor. The lives of the villagers are interconnected and overlapping, as would be expected. The village is a pleasant mixture of Greek Christians, Armenian Christians and Turkish Moslems, all of whom, interestingly enough, consider themselves good Ottomans. But they find themselves swept over by the flood of history--the Great War, the Armenian Genocide, the Greco-Turkish War and finally, the expulsion of the Greeks in 1923. de Beniers weaves a tragic and unforgetable story.

That brings me to another book recently read. Fr. Gregory encouraged me to read St. Arsenios the Cappadocian. Fr. Arsenios (1840-1923) was the village priest of Farase, in eastern Cappadocia. He, along with the Christians of Farase were expelled to Greece in 1923. He died 40 days after arriving there (as he predicted he would).

The most memorable story in the book is the final one. As with the fictional families in Birds Without Wings, the Farase Christians lived among Turkish Moslems. A Christian woman and a Turkish woman were best of friends. The Turkish woman told her Christian friend a secret: she wanted to become a Christian. The Greek woman went to Fr. Arsenios with the story. He told her to instruct the woman in the Christian faith. She did so, and the Turkish woman was secretly baptized, being given the name Eleftheria (Greek for "Freedom"). This was kept secret, as her own family would kill her if they knew she had become a Christian. She was able to partake of the Eucharist about 3 times before she became bed-ridden. As she was on her deathbed, she expressed a wish to her Christian friend that she wished more than anything to be able to partake of the Eucharist one more time. As her Turkish family was gathered around, this seemed impossible. The friend informed Fr. Arsenios. He took a small apple, cut a plug out of it and inserted the Holy Communion and then plugged the apple back up. He sent the apple back with the woman to her friends bedside. She entered with her arms folded and the sick Turkish lady knew what she meant. She gave her the apple, which she joyously ate, and soon afterwards died in peace.

On The Road--Part 3

Occasional thoughts on my spiritual journey

I hesitate to relate the following story, as it is entirely subjective. The particulars are true to me, but that is as far as it goes. With that caveat, I will proceed.

My friend, Bill and I traveled to Bulgaria in 2003. We were both frequent-flyer-mile rich and cash poor. I suggested Bulgaria, half in jest at first, as an inexpensive destination. Yet, the more we thought about it, the more excited we became about going there.

Of course, it was in Bulgaria that I first came into contact with the Orthodox Christian faith. The most noted tourist destination in Sofia is the Alexander Nevski Cathedral--an immense pile capped with dome upon dome. I thought the interior to be dark and cavernous, illumined here and there by candles. As my eyes became more accustomed to the dim light, I began to appreciate more what surrounded me. The walls and domes were covered in murals depicting biblical scenes. I grew dizzy as I following the biblical story to the depiction of Heaven on the domes.

I began to observe the worshippers. They would come in, cross themselves, take a few candles and then make their way around to the various icon stands. There they would light their candles, cross themselves, bow, kiss the icon and then move on to the next one. I particularly watched one young man before an icon of the Virgin Mary and Child. He slowly crossed himself in wide, sweeping motions, then bowed and touched the ground. He did this 3 times. He then stood silently for a while, obviously in prayer. He then kissed the icon and moved on to another.

As I was taking all this in, I realized that this flew in the face of everything I ever thought I knew about the Christian faith. My logical, rational, intellectualizing, Protestant/Restorationist faith told me that all this was mere superstitious nonsense; idol worshipping of the worst sort; formalistic and ritualistic and not at all heart-felt. I knew with certainty the derision these actions would elicit back home. But my heart told me something different. I had caught a glimpse of something rarely seen in American public or religious life--genuine reverence and humility.

But the moment passed. We moved on and strolled over to the City Park, where we enjoyed a Zagorka and watched the old men play chess.

Two days later, we found ourselves at the Rila Monastery, wedged in a narrow mountain valley in southwestern Bulgaria. The monastery is Bulgaria's Mount Vernon, Lincoln Monument, Gettysburg and Mount Rushmore rolled all into one. Here, more than anywhere else, the Bulgarian monks and patriots preserved their faith and culture through 500 long, long years of Turkish oppression.

The Rila Church is a colorful, though modest-sized chapel, located within the walls of the fortress-like monastery compound. I suppose I was a somewhat jaded traveler. I was familiar with St. Paul's, Westminster Abbey, Salisbury Cathedral, Winchester Cathedral, Yorkminster, St. Gile's Kirk, Notre Dame, St. Denis, Mount St. Michel, St. Trophime and even Zwingli's Grossmunster. I took them all in stride--appreciative, but not really affected; my iconoclastic ideals remaining firmly entrenched.

But nothing prepared me for this small chapel in rural Bulgaria. Every inch of the interior seemed covered in murals and icons--with the entire redemptive story of God's dealings with mankind laid out before me. Innumerable candles (as I then realized represented prayer) flickered everywhere. And before the altar was an incredible golden iconostasis. I could not "tag" this church as I had the cathedrals of western Europe. In fact, I could only take a half step at a time. I was overcome with awe, and a sense that here was something very, very authentic; here was something very, very special; indeed here was something holy. I had never felt this before, and certainly not in any church.

Bill and I walked out of the church and continued our travels, much as before. I doubt I fully realized it then, but I walked out of there a different man. In time, this holy place would work its change on me.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Fear or Mercy?

I recently received an email from a good friend of mine, in which he posed several interesting questions. They are, in fact, questions that I think many Christians wrestle with at some point in their journey. The basic question boils down to whether we serve God out of love for Him, or fear of Him. My short answer would be ... yes. All kidding aside, I often find that the questions we posit as "either/or" are actually "and." And I also believe that this dichotomy between the fear of God on one hand and the love of God on the other, is somehow a product of the juridical view of Christianity that emerged from medieval scholasticsm in the Christian West. The tension that exists between the two views is not one found in scripture, nor in the life of the early church, nor (as I can tell) in the Christian East. That being said, my friend's letter is attached below, in its entirety. I will respond at the end, and encourage other (and more learned) input. (S-P, that means you!)

My friend writes, as follows:

Why should we fear God? My answer to this may be readily obvious to someone that was raised in church or conducted more study on the matter. But it came to me when I was reading Psalm 103, where there is both praise for God’s mercy and warning of God’s anger and punishment. This has always been a confusing point for me. I think of God as merciful and loving, so fearing God has always seemed unnatural. I think it is commonly taught that we will be punished for our sins. This makes God seem spiteful and revengeful. Here, I would like your comments on the subject. Below is the thought that I had. Basically, I think there is a bad Public Relations job being done. We should have faith because Jesus is the Light and the Truth, and we have an eternal gift awaiting us. It shouldn’t be that we are afraid of the church and faith in general because we may be punished for our sins. “Jesus shall come again to judge the living and the dead.” I think people use this “judgment” to attempt to conform people to their way of thinking or acting, and then say we should fear God’s judgment. Unlike us, the holy trinity is not revengeful. I would say that mercy and forgiveness of sins are the staples of the Lord’s judgment, not pain and punishment. I am taking a glass is half full approach. We are judged to receive eternal life, we are not judged to be damned to hell.

We fear God because of his Mercy!

God has granted us the possibility of eternal life which is greater and to be more valued than any experience on earth. However, to obtain this life we must have at the very least faith. Psalm 103:10 “He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor punished us according to our iniquities.” If I am to be given eternal life then this is an understatement. I am flawed, I continue sin, but I still live in hope of salvation and fear of my own transgressions. However, I do not fear god, for he is merciful. I fear my own actions and short comings, and hope that I may be forgiven.

If God did not have forgiveness and did not show mercy, there would be no need to fear him. If we were judged on our acts there would be no one spared. Without mercy we would be lost. If you reach a place where there is no hope then we loose accountability for our actions and thoughts.

I have said all of this to ask a question: Do you fear God, and if so, why?

I will start by answering my friend's initial and concluding question. I fear God because He is God and I am not. As a created being, I fear my Creator, who is Uncreated.

Psalm 103 is one of the best! And yes, the Psalmist does speak (a bit) of God's anger, but the psalm is overwhelmingly tilted towards the mercy and goodness and love of God. In fact, in reference to anger, he is said to be "slow to anger." So the main thrust of Psalm 103 is the mercy and goodness of God.

I think of God as merciful and loving, so fearing God has always seemed unnatural. Well, I think of God as merciful and loving, as well, but it doesn't follow then that fearing God would be "unnatural." I view it as the most natural thing in the world. What is "unnatural" is the lack of fear of God. In the West, in years past, a popular conception of God was that of a temperamental, almost capricious judge, who could be angered and who exacted punishment from those who went astray. Evidence of this mentality is not hard to find. Just read the papers after any disaster, and some televangelist will by running off their mouth as to how this was the punishment of God for (fill in the blank). Also, my Protestant and Catholic friends will have to bear with me on this point. I'm not picking on "the West," but I frankly do not find this mindset in the Christian East. I think we err when we ascribe human emotions to God. Within the language of scripture, licence is taken from time to time to make the point understandable to our feeble intellects. But we know that God is unchanging. And we know that God is Love. The believer basks in the glorious light of God and receives nourishment from it. To the one who turns his back on God, this same light is blinding and burning. So, I really don't see the tension between a loving God and fearing God. God is Love. I love Him because of His love for me. But, as the creature, in light of my own unworthiness, I fear the overwhelming awe of Who He Is. But this is a different "fear" than the fear I would have if I believed that when (not if) I screw-up today, He is gonna zap me!

I think it is commonly taught that we will be punished for our sins. This makes God seem spiteful and revengeful. -- Yep, this idea is unfortunate. It is as though we have made God in OUR image. But again, I believe it goes hand in hand with a juridical view of salvation, as opposed to viewing salvation as a healing.

we are not judged to be damned to hell. --- Well, we damn ourselves.

“He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor punished us according to our iniquities.” These 2 lines are some of the most comforting in all of scripture. I also like the line from Psalm 130--"If You, O Lord would mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?" Believe, me I need to hear verses like this! And I agree with your closing comments about mercy, but I would hesitate to say "I do not fear God, for he is merciful." I cling to the mercy of God--for like you said, "I fear my own actions and short comings"--but, but, but to me, the fear of God is just the other side of the same coin. Yes, I love Him because He first loved me. But, in light of the fact that I'm pretty unlovable, in light of the only dim conception I have of Who He Is, and the very vivid realization of exactly who I am and who I am not; I fear Him. I love Him. It's all the same to me.

Now, somebody help me out with this.....

Saturday, February 18, 2006


The religion section in the Saturday Dallas Morning News is always good. My favorite bit today was the following:

The United Methodist Church is moving its 2012 general conference from Richmond, VA., to Tampa, Fla.
The reason: Richmond is home to a minor league baseball team, the Braves. And the Methodists, who convene every four years, have a policy against meeting "in cities that sponsor sport teams using Native American names and symbols."
Tampa is home to pro football's Buccaneers, prop baseball's Devil Rays and pro hockey's Lightening, as well as the University of South Florida Bulls.

Geez. Isn't it edifying to see the Methodist hierarchy forcefully addressing the really crucial, substantive issues facing the church today? The Methodists have had a pretty good 250 year run, but if this is typical (and I'm afraid it is), then it looks as though things for them are just about ...... over.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

More Merton

If, in trying to do the will of God, we always seek the highest abstract standard of perfectioin, we show that there is still much we need to learn about the will of God. For God does not demand that every man attain to what is theoretically highest and best. It is better to be a good street sweeper than a bad writer, better to be a good bartender than a bad doctor, and the repentant thief who died with Jesus on Calvary was far more perfect than the holy ones who had Him nailed to the cross. And yet, abstractly speaking, what is more holy than the priesthood and less holy than the state of a criminal? The dying theif had, perhaps, disobeyed the will of God in many things: but in the most important event of his life he listened and obeyed. The Pharisees had kept the law to the letter and had spent their lives in the pursuit of a most scrupulous perfection. But they were so intent upon perfection as an abstraction that when God manifested His will and His perfection in a concrete and definite way they had no choice but to reject it.

Let me then wish to do God's will because it is His will. Let me not seek to measure His will by some abstract standard of perfection outside Himself. His will is measured by the infinite reality of His love and wisdom, with which it is identified. I do not have to ask if His will be wise, once I know it is His.

Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island, pages 70-71.

The Way of a Pilgrim

How good and kind our Lord Jesus Christ is, and how great is His love! In what different ways He draws sinners to Himself. With what wisdom He uses things of little importance to lead us on to great things.

from The Way of a Pilgrim, page 126.

Friday, February 10, 2006

The Spirit of Inquiry

Like many, I have been dismayed by the recent rioting of angry Moslems protesting the depiction of Muhammad in European cartoons. I do have some mixed feelings about all this. One the one hand, I try to follow the old saying, “don’t go begging trouble.” And by publishing the cartoons, this is exactly what the European newspapers did in fact do.

But on the other hand, I do understand and agree with the position taken by the newspapers. Muslim minorities in western European are increasingly attempting to impose on the whole of their adoptive countries--at least as it pertains to Islam—those restrictions which would be a matter of course in Islamic societies. This would mean absolutely no questioning of Muhammad and Islam, no criticisms of Islam, no critical inquiry of Islam and certainly no jest at the expense of Islam. One could better understand this if meant only for the Islamic community, but rather the pressure is to apply these standards to the whole of European society. Recognizing the threat this poises to the very continuity of their culture, the newspapers took a stand against Islamic intolerance and censorship.

I suspect many moderate Muslims are dismayed and embarrassed by the senslessness and silliness of this spectacle. For they must realize that the rioting did far more damage to Islam's reputation than the scribblings of a Copenhagen cartoonist (I love cartons. I have seen these cartoons and frankly, they are not that good). I also suspect that the rioting was not exactly spontaneous, but was, in fact, pretty well orchestrated. The irony is that most of the rioters had plenty to demonstrate about. They are largely poor, trapped in a stagnant society—culturally, economically and politically—with little hope of relief on any front. And yet, they rioted not over these factors which affect their lives on a daily basis, but over cartoonists in far-away Copenhagen.

Clearly, Islam and the West, or really "the Rest," are not playing by the same rulebook. Whether Orthodox, Catholic or Protestant, we all seem to flourish in what I term "the spirit of inquiry." I believe it to be in some way rooted in the very nature of our faith. We question. We inquire. We criticize. We doubt. The downside is that we have elevated this questioning to almost an article of faith; so much so, that in Europe and America many have questioned and reasoned themselves right out of any faith. Our society will have to confront the shipwreck that is our faith. But this is in spite of the nature of our faith, not because of it.

And undeniably, this inquisitive spirit finds fruition in all aspects of our society--the arts, our economic system, scientific experimentation, exploration, and political institutions. Now the sceptic may point out the excesses of western Christianity in history--and they are not hard to find--but they primarily consist of Roman Catholic heavy-handedness in the Middle Ages, forced conversions of natives by Spanish missionaries and the atrocities associated with the religious wars which washed across central Europe in the 1600s. But these events were not really normative for Christianity as a whole, and that temperament did not prevail for the faith. Christ calls us, but never forces us. He tells us that "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." And every believer has to face that statement at some point, to believe it or not, to follow or to turn back. We follow our Shepherd willingly. We are never herded and prodded like cattle.

I would like to say that the Islamic response to European cartooning has been an abberation, an exception. Sadly, I find it fairly normative. Historically, they have shown little interest in the outside world, secure in an unnerving surety of their absolute correctness of their own beliefs. This lack of inquiry spills over into all aspects of an Islamic society. An oft-quoted statistic notes that the country Spain translates more books inn one year that the entire Islamic world has ever translated. In Turkey, the most secular of all the Moslem nations, authors and intellectuals are prosecuted for acknowledging the truth of the Armenian genocide. In Iran, the president implies that the Holocaust is a Jewish hoax. Throughout the Middle East, the farcical Protocols of the Elders of Zion is accepted as absolute fact. David Pryce-Jones, in the current issue of The New Criterion, noted that "this mind-set--and the cultural assumptions that stem from it--goes a long way towards explaining the phenomenon of the loss of creative energy, of scholarship, or inquiry, which afflicted the whole House of Islam, inducing an unrealistic self-perception that could only generate stagnation."

But this is nothing new. In the waning days of Constantinople, the Byzantine emperor John VI Cantacuzenas (d. 1383) observed the following:

The Muslims prevent any of their own from engaging in dialogue with Christians, in order it seems, to keep them from ever learning the truth clearly through such an exchange of views. The Christians, however, confident that their faith is pure and the dogmas they hold are right and true, do not in any way hinder their own; on the contrary, every Christian has full permission and authority to converse with anyone who wishes or desires to do so."

Clash of civilizations? Yep. But it is the same one that has been going on for nearly 1400 years now. Perhaps this wisdom is finally beginning to sink in to the consciousness of the inheritors of the oh-so-enlightened West.

Sunday, February 05, 2006


Prayer--our desperate need for it--has been on my mind a lot lately. My readings have been leaning in that direction, as well. Clearly, the thing is, of course, not so much to think about prayer, nor read about prayer, but to pray. I have a long way to go, in that area, but spending more and more time in the Psalms is a big help.

I was also blessed to attend a retreat yesterday with Fr. Patrick Reardon as speaker, the subject being--prayer. He used Luke 18—with the examples of the persistent widow, the publican and the Pharisee, and the beggar on the road to Jericho--as a springboard to talk about the cultivation of constant prayer. As these stories illustrate, prayer is meant to be repetitive and persistent. Fr. Patrick even suggested that we should never answer the phone without saying a prayer first. Lord, have mercy. We should never have a conversation without praying first. All our conversations should be 3-way. Lord, have mercy. We should never start our cars without praying first. Lord, have mercy. I suspect those who ride with me already do this :) Later, he discussed the hours of prayer (matins, 3rd, 6th, 9th, and vespers) and how these were in place during the 1st century. What I found intriguing, however, was his explication of how Christ-centered these blocks of time were; how each was tied in some way to the crucifixion of Christ. He noted that the ancient Christians thought a great deal more about Jesus Christ on the cross every day than modern Christians are wont to do. He concluded that our prayers should be saturated in the blood of Christ. Anyway, his talk was timely for me.

Some recent readings on prayer that I’ve found useful are, as follows:

St. Mark the Ascetic (5th Century), On the Spiritual Law: Two Hundred Texts

22. There are many different methods of prayer. No method is harmful; if it were, it would be not prayer but the activity of Satan.
25. At the times when you remember God, increase your prayers, so that when you forget Him, the Lord may remind you.
113. He who prays with understanding patiently accepts circumstances, whereas he who resents them has not attained pure prayer.

St. Evagrios the Solitary (4th Century), On Prayer: One Hundred and Fifty-Three Texts

31. Do not pray for the fulfillment of your wishes, for they may not accord with the will of God. But pray as you have been taught, saying: Thy will be done in me (cf. Luke 22:42). Always entreat Him in this way—that His will be done. For He desires what is good and profitable for you, whereas you do not always ask for this.
38. Pray first for the purification of the passions; secondly, for deliverance from ignorance and forgetfulness; and thirdly, for deliverance from all temptation, trial and dereliction.
39. In your prayer seek only righteousness and the Kingdom of God, that is, virtue and spiritual knowledge; and everyting else ‘will be given to you’ (Matt. 6:33).
40. It is right to pray for your own purification, but also for that of all your fellow men, and so to imitate the angels.

C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm

Now the disquieting thing is not simply that we skimp and begrudge the duty of prayer. The real disquieting thing is that it has to be numbered among duties at all. For we believe that we have been created ‘to glorify God and enjoy him forever.’ And the few, the very few, minutes we now spend on intercourse with God are a burden to us rather than a delight, what then?

Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island

Prayer is inspired by God in the depth of our own nothingness. It is the movement of trust, of gratitude, of adoration, or of sorrow that places us before God, seeing both Him and ourselves in the light of his infinite truth, and moves us to ask Him for the mercy, the spiritual strength, the material help that we all need. The man whose prayer is so pure that he never asks God for anything does not know who God is, and does not know who he is himself; for he does not know his own need for God.

Finally, Tom Howard, in Evangelicalism is Not Enough, said something to the effect that our feelings have nothing to do with why we pray. Rather, we pray because that is what the people of God do.