Gracious and Glorious Love
The end in the End
The life of prayer is timeless. Its origins and destination lie elsewhere. Thus there are not really stages at all since there is something of everything all the time. Yet, while on earth, we are creatures of time and space and so must progress step by step along the way and define things for ourselves in orderly sequence. Reality, however, altogether exceeds definition. In the last analysis, though, all is of apiece, a unity. Baxter knew this. Everything in the long run became one for him, the whole of life was prayer. Indeed, he asserted the absolute necessity of prayer. Even the unbeliever, on the verge of meeting up with God, is drawn to pray and should not be hindered. The Christian much more must and should pray everywhere and at all times:
You may better keep the converted Christians from food, raiment, home or friends, than keep them from God: they had rather be without a shop to work in, a house to dwell in, a bed to lie in, than a place to pray in … The very soul of a Christian is habituated to prayer, and therefore he doth it as it were continually (A Treatise on Conversion).
Prayer, then, is life and life prayer. Baxter in the middle section of the work The Divine Life graphically expresses this. It is entitled ‘Of Walking with God’. It is well-seasoned Christians who are being addressed, those for whom faith is real, not notional, the proficients as St John of the Cross terms them. In line with ancient monastic tradition Baxter urges his readers to look out for and find God everywhere and at all times. The practice of the presence of God is called for, the remembrance that the divine presence is everywhere (cf The Rule of St Benedict).
To walk with God, is to live as in his presence, and that with desire and delight … We believe and apprehend that wherever we are, we are before the Lord, who seeth our hearts and all our ways.
Our lives must therefore be transformed to be in conformity with the Holy One in whose perpetual presence we abide. Moreover, our God is the Creator-God who has made all things well. We must find and see him in all these wondrous works, in one another as his offspring:
To walk with God, includes not only our believing in his presence, but also that we see him in his creatures, and his daily providence … [that we] see them as the glass, and God as the represented face … We must see his power in the fabric of the world, and his wisdom in the admirable order of the whole: we must taste the sweetness of his love in … the comforts of our friends … we must see and love his image in his holy ones…
In many and other ways we are to recognize God’s presence, but most interestingly, and contrary to what some might expect, Baxter exclaims that it is in Holy Communion we are brought closest to Jesus:
Nowhere is God so near to man as in Jesus Christ: and nowhere is Christ so familiarly represented to us, as in this holy sacrament. Here we are called to sit with him at his table, as his invited welcome guests; to commemorate his sacrifice, to feed upon his very flesh and blood … the marriage covenant betwixt God incarnate, and his espoused ones, is there publicly sealed, celebrated and solemnized.
From here Baxter moves on to speak of prayer, in terms that leave us with no doubt as to its vital role in the Christian’s life. As we have said, that life is prayer and prayer is that life. ‘The new nature of a Christian’, Baxter claims, ‘is more immediately and vigorously operative in prayer, than in many other duties: there every infant in the family of God can pray, with groaning desires, and ordered graces, if not with well
ordered words.’ We might feel there is thus hope for us!
Actually, it is the Holy Spirit who is our mentor, Baxter assures us. ‘In prayer, the Spirit of God is working up our hearts unto him, … it is a work of God as well as of man.’ Without God we most certainly can’t do very much. The work of prayer is beyond our normal human capacities and so demands everything of us. Nothing else can or must intervene. ‘To speak to God in serious prayer, is a work so high, and of so great moment … the mind is so taken up with God, and employed with him, that creatures are forgotten … unless … our prayers are interrupted and corrupted, … and are no prayer’. Here Baxter speaks of a profoundly recollected prayer, a prayer much more of God than of ourselves, infused rather than acquired contemplation. We are entering the unitive way. Such prayer is deeper by far than the meditation Baxter has described.
A Sister of the Community of Holy Cross Rempstone