I remember a clever TV advertisement for a particular type of film, which described itself as a colour thief. This advertisement presented the taking of photographs as a new type of terrorism because just by a click, the time to take a photograph, the person photographed was reduced to a black and white image. The disastrous effect on the morale of the victims was at the same time the guarantee of the efficiency of the product used!
Often, in my daily life, I am surprised that I have to combat the depressing feelings resulting from the horrific news that seem to surge up from just about everywhere. For example, the few months that I spent in Jerusalem, showed me the danger of letting myself be dragged down by the daily reports of a venomous conflict, which gives few reasons for being optimistic about the future. A big danger here of letting myself be robbed of my colours.
The events of our daily lives and the way in which they present themselves, offer many opportunities to let ourselves be ‘robbed of our colours.’ This is true even when we are not present at a place of conflict whether it is overt or covert. When we are tempted to spend more time in front of a TV or the digital icons of a computer than before the icon of the Holy Face (and that happens quickly enough), we run the danger of being robbed of our optimism and our Christian sense of life. Yes, if we are not careful, dark colours can easily settle “behind the window of our eyes” in the words of a famous singer.
Prayer is a powerful resource when faced with these dangers and with combating them. Personally, it allows me to restore myself, to reposition myself permanently in front of another reality, which is just as capable of influencing my moods, behaviour, ideas and my life as the world of audio-visual and the media can with all its challenges. As St. Theresa has already said, “above the clouds, the sky is always blue” but I have to make the effort to get there. In a word, prayer allows me to remain free, that is, capable of being myself and always capable of going beyond myself, the person I want to be and that I choose to be, rather than the person others would like me to be. My personal relationship with the person of Christ, with the reality of his permanent and incessant love, allows me to combat and to put in context all other influences, in particular those, which discourage me and make me sad.
For me, the familiar character of prayer in all its forms is important because the regularity allows me to get to the heart of it. I am not convinced that creativity is absolutely necessary in our community liturgies. When our celebrations become venturesome experimental workshops, I get distracted from what is fundamental by the outward appearances and it is too easy to forget the essential, which is always an encounter. It is too much to expect our confreres do something different each day. If I was married, it is not the type of demand that I would make on my wife. All these novelties and transformations could very well be justified rationally. What I need when I pray is more of a loving contemplation, which nourishes the heart rather than rational and theological orations. The monotonous and repetitive character of daily prayer provokes me and invites me to a deep conversion of all my being.
Even if I believe firmly in the efficacy of prayer, I am not so naïve to the point that I believe that it will allow me to resolve all the problems in some magical kind of way. In life, nothing is ever won in advance and humility is always wise. In particular, my understanding and my experience of prayer allows me to affirm that optimism, in the true Christian sense, is very different from the evangelical gospels of prosperity or the films with ‘happy’ endings so beloved of American Cinema in which we are led to believe that everything will be alright in the end. For St. John the Baptist, for St. Theresa of the Child Jesus or even for Jesus himself there is no happy ending. I have no reason to believe that I should benefit more than they did.
It is precisely because I am confident that prayer is the means by which I can surpass and overcome the inevitable fragilities and conditions of my existence, whatever they may be, and not so much to hope of being able to change them. Prayer allows me, in fact, to welcome the grace of God that allows me to press on ahead without robbing me of my colours, which are joy, deep serenity, enthusiasm, energy, passion or dynamism. A missionary I greatly admired once told me, “We are all idiots, because we are incapable of living and explaining the grace of God!” Grace is the fruit of prayer and roots itself is its own experience and it is called to become for each of us what it already was for the Apostle Paul, “But by the grace of God, I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective. Indeed I have toiled harder than all of them; not I, however, but the grace of God (that is) with me.” I Cor 15, 10
Pascal Durand, M.Afr.