[Copyright TAN Books, reproduced with permission.]
O Lord, teach me to seek You, even when my heart is dry and my mind distracted.
1. The simplest way of conversing with God is certainly vocal prayer, properly made; but as the soul progresses in the spiritual life, it is natural for it to feel the need of a more interior prayer, of one that is more intimate; and so it spontaneously turns toward mental prayer. If the diving attraction takes hold of the soul by giving it some sensible devotion, no difficulty is experienced in becoming recollected in God; on the contrary, this exercise becomes extremely easy and pleasant. But it is quite different when the soul is left to itself, especially if an excessive activity of the imagination makes thoughts on a definite subject almost impossible. St Teresa remarks that there are many who suffer from these continual wanderings of the mind, in which "they go her and there, and are always upset, wehther the fault is in their own nature, or whether God permits it." (Way of Perfection, 19)
Those who are in this condition are easily tempted to give up mental prayer, which has become so painful that they find it almost impossible. The Saint has an entirely different opinion, and insists that even these can apply themselves to mental prayer with profit, although they ought to do it in a somewhat special way. This way consists in helping themselves by reading a book, which, she says, "will be a great help to recollection, and is practically indispensable; let them read, therefore, even if only a little, but let them read." (Life, 4)
This does not mean that we are to spend the time allotted to mental prayer in continual reading. Rather, we should use some devout book in which we can find, from time to time, a good thought which serves to recollect us in God, to put us in contact with Him. St Thérèse of the Child Jesus, who suffered habitually from aridity, often used this method. "In my helplessness," she said, "the Holy Scriptures and the Imitation are of the greatest assistance.... It is from the Gospels, however, that I derive most help in the time of prayer; I find in their pages all that my poor sould needs, and I am always discovering there new lights and hidden, mysterious meanings." (Story of a Soul, 8
2. St Teresa of Jesus, who before she was raised to the highest states of contemplation had long known aridity and the torment of importunate thoughts during prayer, confesses: "I passed more than fourteen years unable to meditate, except with the help of a book.... With this help, I was able to collect my wandering thoughts, and the book acted like a bait to my soul. Often, I only needed to open the book; sometimes I read a little, at other times much, according to the favour which the Lord showed me." (Way of Perfection, 17 - Life, 4)
It is important to choose a book which will arouse devotion, such as, in general, the writings of the saints. It will usually be preferable to take a book we have already read and one which we know will be helpful. We may even have marked some passages in it which have made an impression on us, whereas with a new book we would be somewhat lost, and perhaps exposed to the temptation of reading out of curiosity. We must avoid selecting authors who are too speculative, and choose instead those who are more practical and affective, since we are not interested in studying or learning but in praying, which consists much more in the exercise of love than in the work of the mind. Hence we should read, from time to time, only what is necessary to put the soul in a proper mood for conversing with God. As soon as we have read enough -- and it may be only a sentence -- to arouse in us good thoughts and holy affections which will occupy our mind devoutly, we must stop reading and turn our attention directly to God: meditating in His presence on the thoughts we have read, or savouring in silence the devotion they have awakened in our heart, or even speaking to Him the loving words inspired by the reading. Like birds, who, when they drink, bend their heads toward the water, take a few drops, and raising their beaks to the sky, swallow gradually, and then begin again, let us also bend our heads toward the devout book to gather a few drops of devotion, and then let us raise them to God, so that our minds may be fully impregnated with these thoughts. In this way, it will not be difficult to finish the prayer which we have begun by reading an intimate colloquy with God.
O Lord, teach me how to seek You! Do not hide from my eyes, for I need to find You, to converse with You, to approach You, O infinite Love, to be inflamed and attracted by You.
"Although I am but dust and ashes, shall I speak to You, O Lord? Yes, from this vale of tears, from this place of exile I dare to raise my eyes and fix them on You, supreme Goodness! Just as faithful servants and handmaids watch attentively for the slightest sign from their masters, so my eyes are on Your hands, O Lord. I get You, have mercy on me.
"O good God, have pity on the work of Your hands. I am incapable, Lord, of formulating by myself any good thought, since all my sufficiency comes from You; nor can I worthily invoke Your Name without the help of the Holy Spirit. May it please You, then, to send me Your Spirit, in order that the rays of Your light may shine down upon me from the height of heaven. Come, O sweet Holy Spirit; come, Father of the poor; come, dispenser of graces; come, light of hearts; come, wonderful comforter; come, sweet guest and refreshment of our souls. You are rest in toil, dew on a summer morning, consolation in sorrow. O blessed Light! fill the inmost places of my heart" (cf. St Peter of Alcantara)
O Lord, enlighten my heart, for without Your light, without Your Spirit, even the holiest books leave me cold and dry and do not speak to me of You. When, on the contrary, You come to my aid and give me Your interior grace, then everything is illumined with a new light, and even the simplest words are food for my soul. Grant me then, O Lord, this grace, without which no reading, however sublime, can inspire me with devotion; no reasoning, however lofty, can move my heart to love You and my will to accomplish good.