On Spiritual Disciplines

I have gradually begun to see both prayer and worship as the most expansive practices in the Christian life. They are not narrow, separate, disintegrated categories. They are not limited activities that can be sectioned off into certain parts of a full and balanced life.  Rather, they overlap and include every spiritual discipline and activity, while also overlapping and including all of life. Prayer is simply relating with God. It is communicating and communing with the Sacred. Worship is surrendering and depending upon God. It is our natural, heartfelt response to God’s grandeur and goodness towards us.

I find it hard to identify any meaningful distinctions between prayer and worship. I think that all real prayer is also worship, and all real worship is also prayer—because all prayer also involves surrendering and depending upon God, and all worship also involves relating with God. Both are also signs of our need for God. Both are expressions of our desire for God. Both are acts of focusing our attention and intention towards God.  Both are attempts to encounter God.  So any distinctions between the two are inevitably more artificial and abstract than they are real.

We are taught to live in continual prayer and continual worship (1 Thess 5:16-18; Rom 12:1). Which is to say we are encouraged to always relate with God, depend on God, and surrender to God in everything we do—this, indeed, is the Christian way of life. So we can pray and worship in stillness or in action, in solitude or in community, in silence or with sounds, with liturgies or with spontaneity, with ancient rituals or with modern innovations. We can pray and worship while listening, speaking, sharing, or singing; while sitting, kneeling, walking, or dancing; while giving, receiving, supporting, or serving. The possibilities are practically endless.

It is crucial to remember that how we pray and worship should always serve the ultimate purpose of why we pray and worship, since there are many possible modes and methods. While there can certainly be many reasons and many occasions, becoming closer with God is the most essential purpose of all prayer and worship. We foster intimacy with God through praying and worshiping with gratitude, authenticity, openness, and love. These are indeed some of the ingredients that will enhance authentic prayer and worship. But regardless of what we do or how we do it, fostering intimacy with God is always the goal of our prayers and our worship.

Our life becomes a prayer inasmuch as we live in constant connection to God. Our life likewise becomes worship inasmuch as we live in constant surrender and dependence upon God. The Christian life, then, is meant to be a life of prayer and a life of worship.


On Freedom

“Religious belief, on the deepest level, is inevitably also a principle of freedom.  To defend one’s faith is to defend one’s own freedom, and at least implicitly the freedom of everyone else.”
—Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

On Love

“Christianity is a religion of love.  Christian morality is a morality of love.  Love is impossible without obedience that unites the wills of the lover and the One loved.  But love is destroyed by a union of wills that is forced rather than spontaneous.  The man who obeys God because he is compelled to do so does not really love Him.  God does not want the worship of compulsion, but the worship that is free, spontaneous, sincere, ‘in spirit and in truth.’  True, there must always be a limit where human weakness is protected by a categorical command: ‘Thou shalt not!’  There can be no love of God that ignores such commands.  However, a true and mature love obeys not because it is commanded, but because it loves.

Christianity is not the religion of a law but the religion of a person.  The Christian is not merely one who keeps the rules imposed on him by the Church.  He is a disciple of Christ.  True, he keeps the commandments of God as well as the laws of the Church, but his reason for doing so is not to be looked for in any power of legal decrees: it is found in Christ.  Love is specified not by laws but by persons.  Love has its laws, but they are concrete, existential laws based on values hidden in the very person of the Beloved…  Jesus Himself, living in us by His Spirit, is our Rule of Life.  His love is our law, and it is absolute.  Obedience to this law conforms us to Him as a person.  It therefore perfects the divine image in us.  It makes us like God.  It fills us with the life and liberty that He has taught us to seek.  This is the value that determines all the actions of a Christian.  This is the foundation at the same time of Christian humanism and of Christian mysticism: The Christian lives by love, and therefore by freedom.”  —Thomas Merton, The New Man