photograph (c) Madcleric. Used with permission
In his classic book on prayer, Beginning To Pray Anthony Bloom says,
...the Gospel must reach not only the intellect but the whole being. English people often say, 'That's interesting, let's talk about it, let's explore it as an idea,' but actually do nothing about it. To meet God means to enter into 'the cave of the tiger' -it is not a pussycat you meet - it's a tiger. The realm of God is dangerous. You must enter into it and not just seek information about it.
This paragraph (and the book as a whole) informed a retreat I made in 2005. I was revisiting it lately because I was aware of myself intellectualising more than I needed to; I was turning the faith into an exercise in thought. Thinking about things is no great crime of course, except when it becomes a pretext for not doing anything. It is easy to fall for the delusion that because I have nutted something out to my own satisfaction (by which I mean to a level whereby I can use it to bolster my ego by bamboozling folks) I have somehow mastered it or integrated it into my life. Mastered it. That's the tricky phrase, because although I can master some concept of God or other, I can never but never master God. I step into the cave of the Tiger and I am dealing with all that is real; with life and death. I am the one mastered.
Anthony Bloom says, paradoxically, that the beginning of real prayer is a sense of God's absence. This is because prayer is about relationship with God, and as in all real relationships, we cannot mechanistically draw the other into our presence by the performance of some trick or technique. In prayer we enter a relationship with an other and all our clever ideas about who or what this other is must be left at the door. The images of God we have constructed in our minds to comfort ourselves are of no help in this real relationship - they must be dropped. So prayer often begins with this sense of absence.In this empty place the real relationship begins: one which will shape me and change me. One in which I am required to move beyond my comfortable little nest of ideas and open myself to life with the one who can make or unmake me with a thought.