Joy in God alone – Wisdom from St. Francis of Assisi and St. John of the Cross, Part 2

I believe we can draw three practical conclusions from the life and teachings of Francis and John on prayer: we can pray longer, more often, and in silence.  First, we can pray longer.  Can we dedicate more time to prayer?  Is it conceivable that we pray for an hour or more?  Can we imagine spending a whole night praying?  Second, we can pray throughout our days, not only at official times.  Third, we can pray in silence.  Prayer is not only words.
It is also a silent presence to God.  We can cultivate this silent communion with God by letting go of our thinking and simply resting in God.

A friend with a demanding family life told me about his practice of prayer during Lent.  He would get up much earlier than the rest of his family to pray one to two hours every morning.  Sometimes, because of family obligations, he had to shorten his prayer time.  At other times, because of a gap in his schedule, he was freer to lengthen his prayer time.  He told me his life changed.  He could gracefully move through his day without getting too upset but with a sense of grateful happiness.  His wife and children noticed and asked him to keep praying!

Rejoicing in God as God within one’s soul inevitably opens one’s heart to others.  This was the experience of both Francis and John.  I believe Francis’ joy in God is behind his generosity.  Every time a beggar asked him for something he would immediately give it.  Further, Francis’ love for God led him to love of creation.  He was so full of mercy that he would pick up worms so they would not get squished!

While ministering to the Sisters at the Monastery of the Incarnation, John of the Cross lived with the poor servants of Avila.  He would play with their children and teach them to read.  He loved these children simply and without any pretense.  He would draw pictures of Christ Crucified and sketch out in a picture his way of nothingness.  He would then freely give away these treasures to the Carmelite Sisters or to laypeople.

After college, I volunteered with the Franciscan Friars in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  They run a soup kitchen there called the St. Francis Inn.  One of my fellow volunteers, Hannah, told me how much she loved cleaning toilets at the soup kitchen.  The homeless seldom had an establishment welcoming their use of a bathroom.  She wanted to keep it clean for them since it was so rare a thing.  Also, the bathrooms were in the back, so it was an anonymous service.  She would clean them after saying her prayers and celebrating Eucharist.  Her humble service flowed from her relationship with God, her joy.

John of the Cross says real love is humble and quite pleased to do good without anyone, even God, acknowledging it.  Francis declares, we love one another through our conversation, through how we talk to and about one another.  It is hardly a noticeable act of love when we refuse to talk about someone behind their backs.  Such love comes from joy in God alone.

The Christian who has joy in God alone knows God is enough, and needs nothing else.  Such joy can burst our ego bubbles and help us live the heart of the Gospel everyday: Love God, who is our joy, and humbly love others.  But, feelings of joy evaporate quickly.  What do we do then?  We choose to let God be our joy.  We rejoice in God in faith, even when we don’t feel a thing.  To place all our joy in God alone needs a constant turning away from the things we falsely believe we desperately need to be happy.  John and Francis both found that desiring God requires one to surrender the ego.  Joy in God alone means resting in God and not bothering about oneself.  Succinctly put, we need to pray.

A contemporary Cistercian monk gets the whole point of joy in God alone when he declares, “I don’t want to bother about myself anymore, to know what others think of me, what I think of myself, only GOD!  GOD!  GOD!”  This joy cares nothing for anxieties and ego concerns.  It is not added onto reality but infuses all aspects of life with a grounding okay-ness and a quietly exuberant delight for no reason at all.  One just enjoys the blissful divine nothingness within, without, above and beyond yet also as one’s deepest identity.  This joy is possible because of prayer.  If we pray more, pray often, and pray silently, we will discover God alone is our joy.