"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)


[Part 4 of 6] GRACE TO BEG FOR
[Part 6 of 6] REVIEW OF PRAYER

Corinthians 4:7-12—"Now we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this surpassingly great power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on all sides, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always consigned to death for Jesus’s sake, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you."

The first consideration as we prepare to enter into prayer is St Paul’s image of the jars of clay. In antiquity, potteries give a good insight into the lives and culture of the ancient peoples. The damp clay is molded into a variety of forms to suit their various day to day needs. Aside from the functional aspect, potteries are also artistic expressions of people’s moods, visions and beliefs. As human beings have become more sophisticated, potteries too have become more intricate. St Paul makes use of the jars of clay, in a much more spiritual and deeper way, to point to God’s “surpassingly great power” at work in the human heart and spirit. The human being is truly Capax Dei—capable of knowing God and of receiving the gift that God makes of Himself. As we enter into the various prayer moments—in an Ignatian formal prayer setting—we seriously take to heart St Paul’s words that we carry within our bodies the transforming life and death of our Lord Jesus. Pottery is the most sensual of all human crafts which could mirror the human heart. It is said in Sacred Scripture that “it is the heart that prays.” Therefore, to begin to enter prayer on the right footing is to go deeper into the vessel of the heart that has the power and grace from God to contain the promised heavenly treasures.

The second consideration to have is the quality common to all potteries—space with a mouth. All potteries that are formed by the potter at the potter’s wheel start off as cylindrical in shape. Excavations in Egypt show that pottery making dates back to as early as 3000 BCE and maybe even earlier to the time when human beings started to cook and store their food both solid and liquid. The largest portion of the earthen vessels excavated were bottles, jars, and jugs for carrying and storing water that was so vital for survival. Simply put, a piece of pottery is a receptacle for one’s own treasure. But in order to be useful it must first have an opening. I like the Greek word “stoma” for opening or mouth. In botany, a stoma is a pore found in the epidermis of leaves and stems. In the case of the human body the mouth and stomach (stomachi in Greek) are considered the main digestive organ or space. Digestion commences in the mouth and continues in the stomach where muscles contract periodically, churning food to aid absorption.

We have an English term “ruminate” which is connected to the British idiomatic expression—chew the cud. Both mean the same thing: to think deeply and reflectively about something. Figuratively speaking, human beings who meditate or contemplate chew the cud, but, literally speaking this expression was derived from the eating behavior of ruminant animals like goats, sheep and other dairy animals. You might have seen how these animals chew and munch over and over again (“ruminari” in Latin) the roughage or the course and fibrous fodder from grass and hay. After partly-digesting the food, they chew it over again before finally swallowing. In fact, ruminant animals have four different stomachs that help with proper digestion. Before the actual meditation or ruminating, the first stage of chewing over the prayer material must take place in the preparation period.

Prepare to feed your space with the words of Scripture and let those reverberate without straining to “study or solve.” Like in all food preparation, prepare the vessels by “emptying” and cleaning. No wonder the Halakha put so much emphasis on ritual washings. The first vessel that is often used is the vessel of the mind. Prepare by reading through the given Scripture passage three times until the mind is saturated by the passage. There is a proverb that says “third time’s the charm,” so slowly read, and pause to listen to the echoes by remembering a word or phrase. Be reverent towards the Word of God that is expressed in human words and fashioned in the light of the same Spirit through whom it was written (DV 12).

In the succeeding steps of the Ignatian prayer, we will be employing more and more the analogy of food or meal. If we may, the preparatory period could be the appetizer which helps dispose the appetite. I do not need to choose the food analogy because when you start using it it screams for more. When it comes to food and prayer we will not be able to say enough. It is considered quintessential—the fifth and pure element after earth, water, fire and air—that is processed not only by the stomach but also by the human mind, heart and soul which need this quintessential element as constant nourishment from God. Food is the most ubiquitous element present in all created beings from the pure spirits like the angels, to human beings, to animals, to plants, to unicellular organisms, connecting everything as an integral ecology through life and through matter. Fr JM Manzano SJ