Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Careful What You Pray For

One of the required readings for the first School of the Spirit residency is Beginning to Pray, by Anthony Bloom. At first, I didn't like the book at all. Bloom seemed to be focusing a lot on how we need to repent and recognize that we are sinners before we can pray. That type of religious writing doesn't help me very much. I am already very hard on myself and I don't think that focusing on how much I fall short brings me closer to God. This story about St. Philip Neri made me smile, though.
He was an irascible man who quarrelled easily and had violent outbursts of anger and of course endured violent outbursts from his brothers. One day he felt that it could not go on . . . he ran into the chapel, fell down before a statue of Christ and begged Him to free him of his anger. He then walked out full of hope. The first person he met was one of the brothers who had never aroused the slightest anger in him, but for the first time in his life this brother was offensive and unpleasant to him. So Philip burst out with anger and went on, full of rage, to meet another of his brothers who had always been a source of consolation and happiness to him. Yet even this man answered him gruffly. So Philip ran back to the chapel, cast himself before the statue of Christ and said 'O Lord, have I not asked you to free me from this anger?' And the Lord answered 'Yes, Philip, and for this reason I am multiplying the occasions for you to learn.' (35-36)
Recently, I started working on a new fruit of the spirit: gentleness, particularly gentleness toward myself. When I talked about this with Sarah P, she reminded me that when I feel led to pray for a new fruit of the spirit, that is usually followed by a lot of testing of the particular thing I am praying for. That is definitely what happened last year when I started praying for joy.

I am guessing that there will be some times coming up where I will make mistakes and feel stupid, probably more than usual. But I am going to try to give myself a break more often and to remember that even if I don’t do something perfectly, it’s not necessarily failure. I doubt I will ever be able to hold myself as gently as God holds me, but I think it's worth trying.


  1. Sounds right. I often advise people not to pray for patience because God doesn't give it to us, He teaches it to us. I do have a bit of a tongue in cheek thing when I so advise, but it is a warning.
    Whatever gentleness I have comes largely from reflecting that I, and the person in need of gentle treatment are both human, with all our failings and we need to help each other pick ourselves up, dust off and try again.

  2. I sure hope you find more gentleness for yourself, dearest Ashley. You are absolutely one of my favorites. And it's that heart of yours that puts you over the top.

  3. Nate - Yes, patience is a dangerous thing to pray for! To add to what you said, I think that our failings are what make all of us need each other. With that in mind, I am trying to be grateful for my own failings and the failings of others.

    Jessica - You are the best. I hope I get to see you soon!

  4. Hi Ashley,
    I have had your comments in mind as I have gone through the Bloom book, but it hasn't struck me quite the same way. I guess my view of repentance is not one of feeling guilty for your sins, but a desire to change. Yes, that includes the recognition of being a "sinner", but I think it is more about not being one any more, not wallowing in being one. There is an epistle by George Fox that I am very fond of, and seems to me to talk about repentance and sin, but not in a way that heaps guilt upon you. I think it goes well with your desire to be more gentle toward yourself (I very much identify with that need, too). Basically, the gist is that the Light shows you your sins, but when it does, you just sit still and strength and comfort will come. Don't beat yourself up. I was going to post it here, but I think it would make this comment really long, so instead I'll just link to Epistle 10 in Modern English.

    Looking forward to meeting you next week!
    With love,


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