“The custom of speaking to God Almighty as freely as with a slave – caring nothing whether the words are suitable or not, but simply saying the first thing that comes to mind from being learnt by rote by frequent repetition – cannot be called prayer: God grant that no Christian may address Him in this manner.” La Santa Teresa de Ávila
This saying of La Santa Teresa de Ávila is a particularly interesting one because it jumps on both ritualists and free-spirited people. In order to understand this, it is important that you remember that La Santa Teresa de Ávila was a nun of the Roman Catholic Church. She would have been 30 years old when Martin Luther died. In the midst of the counter-Reformation, she was a bit of a free-spirit, but if you read her, she was not so free as to reject the Liturgy or written prayers or the Hours, etc. Rather, as a nun, her writings show that she found part of her joy in those parts of the Church. This is what makes the quote from her so interesting. Once you know her background, you know that she was not merely speaking against written prayer.
What she was talking about was about prayers that were said in an unthinking manner, without considering whether they are appropriate to the circumstances that prompted the prayer. That is not only a form of magical thinking but, as La Santa Teresa pointed out, it is treating God as a slave. I have never had a slave nor been a slave. I have never been a personal servant. But, every reading I have done over slavery, and personal service, in more than one country mentions how neither the slave nor the servant dares to miss what the master is actually trying to communicate. Even if the master miscommunicates, the slave is expected to figure out what is being said without further explanation being needed.
Yesterday, I commented on the saying from La Santa Teresa that spoke to prayer as the “will to love.” That is, even if the person who loves God is not able to verbalize their prayers, their love of God is sufficient. God understands the deepest needs of that person’s heart and understands. But, today talks about the person who does not have that type of love of God. This person is the opposite of the person about whom I talked yesterday. The lack of love is shown in the way in which the person treats God. I have heard too many people like this. These are the people who, rather than saying “Thy will be done,” quote a Scripture to God, and then tell him how he must fulfill their prayer in the way in which they expect it to be fulfilled. That type of person will publicly make the argument that since God stands behind his word that God must then fulfill his word in a certain way, that way always being in the way in which that person interprets it.
As you can read, the example I gave is not one of ritual prayer in the Roman Catholic style. It is an Evangelical/Charismatic example. But, there are also the ritual people who will say their morning prayers, recite the Angelus, say their evening prayers and equally expects that God will answer their prayers simply because they have followed the rules and procedures. In fact, if I were to give a summary, it would be that whether you follow the ritual or whether you freely quote from Scripture, you are not letting either speak to you, rather you are using either and/or both in order to chain God down to your will. The Lord’s Prayer is, “thy will be done,” not my will be done.
Now, I freely admit that I am not good at this. In myself, I find that I do too often try to treat God as a slave. Actually, that is not true. What I tend to do is get whiny with God, as a little child will get whiny. But, that is another subject. For today, let’s listen to La Santa Teresa, and remember that loving God with all our hearts, mind, and souls is the first and greatest commandment. Let’s especially remember that when we pray. God is not our slave; he is our Master, our Lord, but–as La Santa Teresa would have said–he is also the Lover of our Souls.