Perseverance in Prayer

There are different kinds of tiredness. Being away on holiday I was able to rediscover the wonderful kind of tiredness that one experiences after a day of walking in the countryside with no responsibilities and few decisions other than which ale to choose to accompany one’s lunch. This is a very different sort of thing from the emotional weariness of long periods under stress, when heavy responsibilities and impossible decisions weigh on the mind even at rest.

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I was also able to observe a kind of collective tiredness with regard to the pandemic that is affecting people in different ways. We’ve had enough, haven’t we? Only, being tired of it all – the disease itself; the confusing messages about what is and isn’t ‘safe’; the way that we can’t plan anything – doesn’t make it go away. The virus still exists and is still dangerous.

And I think there is also a kind of spiritual tiredness, a weariness that affects our determination to pray. Today’s collect asks for the grace of perseverance in prayer and it’s a timely one for this moment. Never has there been a time, in my view, when it has been more important for Christians to ‘pray without ceasing’, to cry out to God for mercy even when God may seem distant and mysterious, and God’s mercy elusive.

There are seasons in the spiritual life, times (as St Ignatius taught) of desolation and of consolation. Some of these are seasons that we intentionally observe through the Church year. Others become apparent in our lived experience. Sometimes, the doors of heaven seem wide open and our prayers flow with easy confidence. At other times, though, prayer feels like an overwhelming burden, a Sisyphean labour that we undertake more because that is all there is than because we have any great enthusiasm for it or expectation of its efficacy.

It is in times of desolation, when we are spiritually weary, that it is most important to persevere in prayer. In such times it is also, I would suggest, helpful to simplify our prayer. In today’s gospel, the Canaanite woman’s persistent prayer is distilled down to one simple, three word, phrase: Lord, help me. May we continue to be faithful in bringing the needs of the world to God in prayer, and may God bless you all,