Ash Wednesday, we hear Jesus speak from scripture saying “whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Your Father who is in secret will reward you. As many will recall, Jesus is speaking to his disciples about proper disposition and warns them to not be like those who pray in order to seen and esteemed as holy by onlookers. There is also an important practical matter being addressed, one that may be especially important to our busy minds. Apparently even in Jesus’ day, people’s minds wandered, so the suggestion to go into a secluded yet familiar place and shut out the world was likely helpful. I would not be surprised if Jesus’ home had a prayer closet - a place set aside for prayer.
This much has made sense to me for quite some time, and I have found the secluded space helpful. But I have wondered about what he meant by “your Father who is in secret” and “who sees you in secret will reward you.” Recently, I have been reading a book titled Inwardly Digest by Derek Olsen. Its subtitle gives away the subject matter - The Prayer Book as a Guide to a Spiritual Life. Olsen argues that the liturgies of the prayer book along with the calendar of readings and feasts and fast, offer a means of spiritual growth that often happens without much notice that any change is happening. Slowly, over time, faithful adherence to praying the ritual liturgies of the Prayer Book shapes the spirit in ways that can usually only be seen over a long period. Something happens as if in secret. Deepening spirituality requires commitment to prayer even when one does not feel like it and when one feels like it is doing no good. But pray we should, noting that Jesus does not say “if you get around to pray...” but assumes that you will pray saying “whenever you pray ...”
A few men of the parish joined me on retreat a week ago. We went to a monastery for time away in our secret closet and to participate in a series of conferences on the topic “Confidence in God.” We talked about many things and I would rate the experience as excellent. Brother Mark, the monk co -facilitating our conversations several times mentioned “God who works in secret.” It is a reference, to the inner life of the spirit and to what happens, often slowly and imperceptibly, when we come to God in prayer. I believe this long-term deepening of the spiritual life, a growing into Christlikeness, is the reward of the God who works in secret. And one of the wonderful things about this is that you should come as you are with all your hopes and dreams, all your hurts and failures, because your Father already sees and knows you, and who loves you as an only child, desires that you come as you are.
Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent. The faithful often use this season as an occasion to take on some discipline, such as giving up something to which they have developed an unhealthy attachment or taking on a spiritual practice. Some may find this Lent a time to establish or renew a commitment to prayer in secret. Your Father who loves you as an only child is waiting for you.
Grace and peace be yours,
Fr Bill+ T