Prayer and the Holy Spirit
M. O’Neill, O.Carm. Carmelite Family: Number 23, Winter/Spring 2005.
The way we live and the way we pray are closely related. We might even say that the way we pray is the way we live and the way we live is the way we pray. In prayer we engage our own thoughts and desires and feelings. There is so much of ourselves that we put into prayer and the more of ourselves that we put into prayer, the more complete and life-giving our prayer turns out to be. The Commandment to love God with our whole heart, our whole soul and our whole mind is fulfilled in the way we pray (Luke 18:9-14).
Prayer can never be simply a routine appointment that we make with God. It is ever so much more because it is the action of the Holy Spirit in our lives – “The Spirit Himself and our spirit bear united witness that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16). The Spirit of God who knows the depths of God, and our depths too, speaks in the heart of each one of us, giving us knowledge of God. We respond through an ever-growing sense of the presence of God and an increasing acceptance of the action of God in our own lives, and in the whole of creation (Luke 1:34-37).
If all of this is true, why does so much of what we see in ourselves, and around us, seem to be so ungodly. The only answer we can give is the answer of the Scriptures gives -that we are slow to learn and that we are being taught gradually by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35). Our best prayer, therefore, is to ask God to continue His work in us and in our creation. In fact, this prayer can be so deep that it engages our whole being and even creation itself — “From the beginning to now, the entire creation has been growing in one great act of giving birth, and not only creation but all of us who possess the first fruits of the Spirit we, too, groan inwardly as we wait for our bodies to be set free” (Romans 8:22, 23).
What is this groan? Because the human person is created by God and is created for God, the life of the human person is marked by a longing to be at one with God. The human person can feel lost or in pain and not know why, until the moment when we realise that our fundamental longing is a longing for God and that we will not rest until we rest in Him (St Augustine). The Holy Spirit keeps this longing alive in us and provides the answer to that longing in those moments when we are most open to what the Holy Spirit reveals to us about ourselves and about God.
This one spirit speaking in the heart of every believer creates a unity of desire, a unity of understanding and a unity of love. This community of believers is what we call the Church. The Church, therefore, as the community of believers, lives by the Spirit. In the Spirit the believers come to know God, not as an item of information but much more in loving intimacy. Perhaps we have to search our own experience to find those moments when we were at one with God. To deny that we have had those moments would be to say that the Holy Spirit does not know us, or that we were not created by God. To accept that we are created by God means to expect the encounter with God and to long for that encounter brought about by the Holy Spirit.
In that encounter we come to know God in the way that God reveals His own Self, and the fullest revelation of God is in Jesus Christ. Our prayer, therefore, gives us that knowledge of Jesus Christ that satisfies the human heart. The promise of Jesus Christ made to his Apostles comes true in prayer: “From now on the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name will teach you all things and remind you of all that I have told you” (John 14:25-26).