I Am Thy Prayer
I would be grateful to any reader that can trace the source of this wisdom: ‘I am thy prayer if thou wilt look on me.’ I have been using it as ‘key text’ in some talks about prayer. I am sure I read it somewhere, sometime ago, but hours of Googling and Binging by several people have not unearthed its origin. No doubt the New Directions search engine will. That ten word phrase does take anyone who reflects on it to the nub of prayer. If prayer is an individual’s experience of relationship with God then this relationship must begin with a God who desires relationship—for God is Love.
The desire which initiated relationships is seen in the accounts of creation: humanity is made in the image of God [Gen. 1], it is created to be reflective with and for the divine light and Word which is its source and origin. God breathed into humanity the breath of life. It is God’s life that (literally) inspires humanity [Gen. 2]; this life is intimate and constant in the human psyche.
Scripture recounts how this friendship and intimacy with God has been fractured and distorted by human self-will and disobedience (sin) and humanity now sees through a glass darkly and darkness is always crouching at the door of the heart waiting to extinguish the divine light [Gen. 3].
Christian prayer is founded on the belief that Jesus Christ has opened up the treasure of the
kingdom with all the gifts and graces of the Spirit. He comes and breathes the life of the Spirit [John 20] to renew and empower with his risen life. He comes that we may have life [John 10] and give new life [John 3]. We are able to experience, as individuals, the love of God because ‘he loves us first’ [1 John 4].
So we come to ‘I am thy prayer if thou wilt look on me.’ For Christians, prayer is dwelling in and with Jesus [John 15]. To keep our hearts and will fixed on him is both the object and purpose of prayer. Jesus is the Eternal Word [John 1] and through him all things were made and all things are words of the Word. We can, as St Ignatius taught, ‘seek and find God in all things.’ In ‘all things’ the Word that is Jesus is present. Everywhere is somewhere from which to look on Jesus.
Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote in his wonderful book Prayer: ‘Man is the being who bears in his heart a mystery greater than himself.’ He is like a tabernacle erected around a sacred mystery. He has no need, when God’s word demands to dwell in him, to take specific means to open his heart. His inmost being is readiness, attentiveness, perceptiveness, and willingness to surrender to what is greater than him, to let truth prevail, to lay down his arms at the feet of enduring love. The place itself does not have to be built. It is there already, in the inmost part of man, and always has been. In other words, ‘I am thy prayer if thou wilt look on me.’
Andy Hawes is Warden of Edenham Regional Retreat House