Progress in prayer
#1
In another thread someone mentioned that they didn't feel that they progressed much by repetition of a particular prayer.  That prompted me to ask him by way of reply how he defined and measured such progress.  So, I thought I'd ask the rest of yinz...how does one define "progress" when it comes to our prayer/spiritual life, and how does one measure that?  Or...does it even profit it us to do that?

Looking forward to your replies! :)
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#2
Your question is very good and I had to think about it to answer only two sentences.
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#3
There are clear markers that the mystics (e.g. Henry Suso, Meister Eckhart, and St. John of the Cross) have given us traditionally although it's easy for us to deceive ourselves without a director or guide. Of course, as a rule, prayer life and the moral life go hand-in-hand, so as one increases, the other does too, which serves as a sign of progress. The examination of conscience is pretty fruitless without regular prayer. St. Teresa, St. Francis de Sales, and St. Alphonsus all agree that prayer and sin are opposites, so eventually one must give up one or the other. If sin continues with no observable decline despite regular prayer, then one should examine how well one is praying as well as one's resolutions. It's impossible for sin to remain at a steady rate if everything else in the spiritual life is going properly.
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#4
Something else that should be remembered is that progress in prayer is ultimately dependent on God alone. That is not to say that we do not have a part to play. We must all strive to rid ourselves of sin and any other attachment that is not of God, but eventually we'll reach a point where human striving is useless and only God can purge us further. St. Teresa of Avila used the image of a farmer (us) and the rain he so desperately needs (God's grace). The farmer can and should use every means at his disposal to make use of the rain water but no amount of irrigation will cause it to rain. Likewise no amount of human striving is going to cause God to act upon our souls apart from what he plans for us in his wisdom.

If the above consideration is lost on someone praying it becomes very easy to become obsessed with the actual steps of prayer and end up smothering the end result you are after. So within various treatise on mental prayer in the West the authors will always stress after listing the various steps of mental prayer  that these are not iron clad rules, but rather guidelines that can be adjusted as various circumstances arise.

Similarly, in the East despite usually eschewing the use of our imaginations in prayer the same issue can arise if one becomes too focused on the more mechanical aspects of the Jesus prayer such as the use of breathing in union with the heartbeat etc. So like the above Western manuals you will often read various Hesychast writers warning their young charges again and again not to become overly fixated on these non essential aspects of prayer.

Oddly I never really noticed these two similarities until I happened upon very polemical writings from both sides that attempted to cast these analogous pitfalls as the normative practices of the other side.

Also it goes without saying that if you really want to make progress in prayer you have to have a spiritual director who can guide you when the need arises.


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#5
(07-15-2015, 05:55 PM)MeanGene Wrote: Something else that should be remembered is that progress in prayer is ultimately dependent on God alone. That is not to say that we do not have a part to play. We must all strive to rid ourselves of sin and any other attachment that is not of God, but eventually we'll reach a point where human striving is useless and only God can purge us further. St. Teresa of Avila used the image of a farmer (us) and the rain he so desperately needs (God's grace). The farmer can and should use every means at his disposal to make use of the rain water but no amount of irrigation will cause it to rain. Likewise no amount of human striving is going to cause God to act upon our souls apart from what he plans for us in his wisdom.

If the above consideration is lost on someone praying it becomes very easy to become obsessed with the actual steps of prayer and end up smothering the end result you are after. So within various treatise on mental prayer in the West the authors will always stress after listing the various steps of mental prayer  that these are not iron clad rules, but rather guidelines that can be adjusted as various circumstances arise.

Similarly, in the East despite usually eschewing the use of our imaginations in prayer the same issue can arise if one becomes too focused on the more mechanical aspects of the Jesus prayer such as the use of breathing in union with the heartbeat etc. So like the above Western manuals you will often read various Hesychast writers warning their young charges again and again not to become overly fixated on these non essential aspects of prayer.

Oddly I never really noticed these two similarities until I happened upon very polemical writings from both sides that attempted to cast these analogous pitfalls as the normative practices of the other side.

Also it goes without saying that if you really want to make progress in prayer you have to have a spiritual director who can guide you when the need arises.

Excellent advice through and through, but especially the bold part. God grants us the grace to pray,gives us the inspirations and makes it possible for us to get started. So much depends on Him, although we do still have a role to play in persevering through it and in trying to converse with Him as much as possible. Prayer is about accepting Gods invitation to a deeper relationship with Him.

Books and techniques and methods are all well and good, but like many of the Fathers say none are anything more than laying a foundation and setting the stage for real prayer. We all must find what works for us, no doubt God will lead each of us to some method that works to lay the foundation for us, but beyond that it's individual.

For me it's the Jesus Prayer and the Divine Office and scripture reading, for someone else it might be Ignatian Exercises or the very textbook style mental prayer of  Divine Intimacy or maybe for someone else it's just the rosary.

I'd also suggest not to be too worried about what stage you are in or whatever,as that is not for us to judge ourselves. We are to continue to be faithful to those interior inspirations to pray and converse with God even when we don't feel like it. I've a suspicion that fidelity to prayer through thick or thin is of the utmost importance.

There is no spiritual life without prayer though.
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#6
I think its better maybe not to analyze where we are.. That could lead to pride or discouragement. The only benefit of knowing where we are is that we can then know what to do in that case. But we can always get a spiritual director to just guide us :) I think progress in prayer would probably mean - less sin, and there are stages of mental prayer specifically as it becomes more contemplative and more infused. But its best I think to just tell a spiritual director and let him guide you :)
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#7
(07-17-2015, 12:07 PM)little_flower10 Wrote: I think its better maybe not to analyze where we are.. That could lead to pride or discouragement. The only benefit of knowing where we are is that we can then know what to do in that case. But we can always get a spiritual director to just guide us :) I think progress in prayer would probably mean - less sin, and there are stages of mental prayer specifically as it becomes more contemplative and more infused. But its best I think to just tell a spiritual director and let him guide you :)

I tend to agree with you about this.  My only caveat about what you write has to do with the spiritual director.  Not everyone of us has one, let alone a "good" one.  I would not tend to consider the priest who hears my confessions about 1/2 the time as a spiritual director or spiritual father in any kind of formal sense, though I suppose he *could* be so. :Hmm:

If you have any suggestions on how to find a good spiritual director or spiritual father/mother for an Eastern Catholic treading water in a very broad and deep Roman sea, I'd be more than happy to hear them. :)
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#8
From what I hear it's hard to find a spiritual director. My own train of thought is that if anyone is advertising themselves as one or claims that a certificate or a degree in " spiritual direction" is sufficient to guide souls they are at best misguided, at worst narcissistic swindlers and frauds. I like to think that most spiritual directors are the types of folks that fly under the radar,like some of the hermits of old who were thrust into that role despite protesting against it.


These days it's really hard to find someone.
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#9
I would also add, based on the trend of the recent comments, that there's a difference between being able to measure progress in prayer and whether a person should do so. The former is clear; otherwise what is a spiritual director doing, and what were all those manuals in the spiritual life going on about with distinctions between different forms of prayer and their effects? But the latter is definitely a matter of individual circumstances, and as a rule people shouldn't be trying to note their specific place in the spiritual life except in most general terms--either basically as a beginner, proficient, or perfect, or transitioning between any of those. This is necessary at least so that the person does not end up doing those spiritual practices that could impede progress in the spiritual life, and as a rule again it's up to the director to make these things clear for the person.

If a spiritual director is lacking, they say good books take the place. Ven. Juan Arintero even said this about his book The Mystical Evolution when he was close to death, and it is a fantastic work.
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#10
(07-17-2015, 04:01 PM)formerbuddhist Wrote: From what I hear it's hard to find a spiritual director. My own train of thought is that if anyone is advertising themselves as one or claims that a certificate or a degree in " spiritual direction" is sufficient to guide souls they are at best misguided, at worst narcissistic swindlers and frauds. I like to think that most spiritual directors are the types of folks that fly under the radar,like some of the hermits of old who were thrust into that role despite protesting against it.


These days it's really hard to find someone.

Couldn't agree with you more!  I had an unfortunate experience with an O'dox priest (my parish priest at the time) who set himself up as a "spiritual father" for a number of us in the congregation.  Man, what a disaster!  And that was only the tip of the ice berg in that chapter of my life!

I seem to recall, perhaps from Tito Colliander's "Way Of The Ascetic", that if one has no spiritual father to just be obedient to the Church, say morning and evening prayers, receive the Sacraments as one can, attend the Liturgy as regularly as possible, fast as one is able, and a few other things I don't recall at the moment.  He may also have mentioned "good books" as referred to by richgr.  Sometimes, though, I think we, in our modern, chaotic, pornographic, violent world may need a little more. :Hmm:
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