Daily life is full of activity but leaves little time for prayer and reflection. “Our lives are overfilled but unfulfilled,” he said during a talk on March 24 at the University of San Diego. It’s like going through a car wash. “You put (your car) in neutral, take your hands off the brakes” and the car wash “just sucks you through.”
But during an engaging and often humorous discussion, the best-selling author of “Prayer: Our Deepest Longing” and other books and publications offered thoughts on how to find a deeper connection with God through prayer.
The good news is that prayer is already part of our lives, whether we know it or not, he said, quoting a passage from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans that “when we no longer know how to pray, the spirit of God prays through us in groans too deep for words.”
He cited the example of a contractor who tried to kill a bamboo shoot in a driveway by covering it with poison, gravel and even a layer of cement, only to have it spring back up a few years later. In our everyday hopes, dreams and frustrations, there is an “incredible drive (and) pressure that just pushes up and won’t be denied,” he said. “That is God’s spirit praying through us. That is our deepest form of prayer.”
Rolheiser, who has served as president of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas, since 2005, acknowledged the guilt and continued resolutions to do better that many people feel in not finding time to pray amid the pressures of technology, work and family life. He repeated an old Irish line where one man asks another how his life is going. “Not very well at all, but I have great hopes for Lent,” the man replies, drawing a round of laughter from a packed audience of nearly 600 in USD’s Shiley Theatre.
Rolheiser urged the audience to consider a “cyber-Sabbath” each week by turning off all electronic devices to make more time for prayer and reflection.
Indeed, much of the longing for prayer comes from a desire for solitude that one imagines as the feeling from watching a sunset, walking along the beach or smoking a pipe in a rocking chair, he said. But that idea is mostly a fantasy that only comes in rare moments. Instead, solitude is finding a sense of peace and contentment in one’s daily life. It’s a way of “living in the moment” and being “present to life” that can come during ordinary activities like washing the dishes or defrosting the refrigerator.
“It’s a struggle to get there,” but it is possible, he said, and when “you’re really discouraged or weary, know that that night, the spirit is praying through you.”
Rolheiser’s talk was part of an annual lecture series at USD endowed by donor Emilia Switgall and was also the First Annual Religious of the Sacred Heart Lecture, in honor of the community led by Mother Rosalie Clifton Hill that founded USD with the Diocese of San Diego.
– Liz Harman