Treasure in the backyard Arthur Middleton

The treasure we seek is in our own backyard, the real and living circumstances of life in the workaday world. We find that treasure as we respond to the spiritual fullness of life as it is, not as we imagine it to be or as we would like it to be. An early Christian mystic, St Isaac the Syrian, said: ‘Enter eagerly into the treasure house that is within you, and so you will see the things that are in heaven… the ladder that leads to the Kingdom is hidden within your soul.’

Integrating prayer

Prayer is intimately connected with life and not a special segment of it. That would be false prayer. When it is an optional extra it creates its own unnatural strain in not being integrated with the rest of life and that is when so many people stop praying. Life is the backyard in which is discovered the light, life and love of God’s presence when prayer is allowed to spring up spontaneously in the pressures of living and thinking. The nature of one’s backyard will determine the nature of one’s prayer. If one’s backyard is not a monastery, nor a vicarage, then one must not try to order one’s prayer as if it were.

St Francis de Sales makes this point in The Devout Life. As in creation God commanded the plants to bring forth their fruits, each after its own kind, so does he command all Christians who are the living plants of the Church, to bring forth the fruits of devotion, each according to his character and vocation and not according to anyone else’s.

The mistake St Francis warns against will lead to the desperation and despair of a blind alley. ‘Devotion must be exercised in different ways by the gentleman, the workman, the servant, the prince, the widow, the maid and the married woman. Not only this, but the practice of devotion must also be adapted to the strength, the employment and duties of each in particular.’

Individual differences

While one’s backyard has many similarities to one’s neighbour’s situation, there will be many differences. People are different in temperament, some are married, others are single, while the detail and framework of daily life is not always the same. All these facts of life affect people in different ways and must be taken into account when working out how prayer is to be practised in one’s life.

Most people’s backyard is the workaday world that centres round the hopes and trials of home and family and at work whatever the job. Here is where the treasure will be found as one comes to know and experience the presence of God as the Lord of all life. Here one discovers how worship and life, work and prayer help to uncover and reveal more of the treasure of God’s Presence. In this backyard we meet with the mystery of God when we turn the whole of life in his direction.

From Prayer in the Workaday World
by Arthur Middleton