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Posted February 7, 2005

Romano Guardini on Prayer

From the book: The Art of Praying: The Principles and Methods of Christian Prayer
[This book is already cited on our website under authors – Romano Guardini]

Prayer is only as good as the preparation for it.

Above all, we must prepare ourselves for prayer. The same applies also to all worldly matters. No one with a serious task before him will approach it unprepared, but will concentrate on the demands he has to face. If we appreciate good music we shall not arrive at the performance at the last minute, allowing for no transition between the noise and unrest of the street and the opening bars of the concert. We shall be there in good time and hold ourselves ready for the beautiful experience before us. Anyone who has the right feeling for things which are great and important will, before tackling them, banish distraction and recollect himself inwardly.

The same must hold good for prayer — all the more since God, as we have said, is hidden and must be found in faith. Praying is an act of religious worship. The faculty which it must awaken and turn toward the object of worship — if this term may be used — is not merely that of thought and action, but the inmost “inwardness” of the soul: in other words, the very thing which in man corresponds to the mysterious holiness of God. In everyday life this inner faculty is silent or at bet just faintly noticeable, for man is wholly occupied with the worldly aspect of his being, living as it were by his worldly powers. But if prayer is to be true, then that which belongs to the sphere of the holy must come into its own.

Recollectedness as “composure and concentration”

Recollectedness, for one thing, means that man becomes composed and concentrated. Usually he is distracted by the diversity of objects and events, agitated by friendly or hostile contacts, assailed by desires, fear, care, or passion. He is constantly bent on achieving something, or on warding off something, on acquiring or rejecting, on building up or destroying. Man always wants something; and to want means to be on the way, either toward a goal or away from a danger. This has been so ever since man existed and is even more so with modern man. Man likes to think of himself as active, striving, and creative. In this he is only partly right. He would in fact be even more right if he thought of himself as a restless being, incapable of standing still or of concentrating; as one who uses up people, things, thoughts, and words without, however, finding fulfillment; as a being who has lost the link with the center and who, with all his knowledge and abilities, is a victim of chance. This restless being wants to pray. Can he do it? Only if he steps out of the stream of restlessness and composes himself.

This means discarding roaming desires and concentrating on that thing alone which, for the time being, is the only one that matters. He must detach himself and say, “Now there is nothing which concerns me, except prayer. The next ten minutes” (or whatever time he may have allocated to it) “are reserved for this. Everything else is excluded; I am completely free and dedicated to this one task,” and he must be completely honest in this, for man is an artful creature and the artfulness of his heart asserts itself in religious matters.

No sooner has he started to pray than, conjured up by his inner unrest, all sorts of other things clamor for attention: a task at work, a conversation, an errand, a newspaper, a book. All these suddenly appear most important, and prayer seems a sheer waste of time. But he fritters it away with useless activities. To recollect oneself means to overcome this deception which springs from unrest and to become still; to free oneself of everything which is irrelevant, and to hold oneself at the disposal of God, who alone matters now.