4th Thursday of Lent
The prayer of Moses in the first reading, and our Lord’s comments in today’s Gospel, call to mind a phrase which is very important in monastic tradition, and that is the idea of “pure prayer”. I’ve always had a problem with that phrase, because it seems to imply an elitist attitude: “My prayer is 99 and 44/100% pure – sorry about yours”. But that isn’t what it’s all about. What makes our prayer pure is the inner attitude we bring to it, and that’s what today’s readings are getting at.
In the Gospel, Jesus points out that the people of his own time had not heard the actual voice of God as Moses had, and they had not seen his face any more than Moses had. But a locution or vision is not necessary for prayer. The one thing necessary is that the Word of God, recorded in the Scriptures, be alive and active in their souls.
They do search the Scriptures, and our Lord does not blame them for that. But they do not bring to their lectio the dispositions that turn it into prayer: namely, what we might call “peaceableness” and humility. Peaceableness, because the Scriptures were not meant to be a source of proof-texts for winning arguments or for showing how clever you are. And humility, because it’s just possible that the God who created us and speaks to us in the Scriptures may have a better knowledge of us than we do.
But what exactly do peaceableness and humility have to do with pure prayer, not to mention with Lent? Here we can turn to one of the Syriac Fathers, a monk of the seventh century named Dadisho. He wrote a short work entitled “On Pure Prayer”, and in that essay he says: “Pure prayer that is without any distraction and without any disturbance is established and preserved by means of four virtues: fasting, vigil, peaceableness and humility”. Fasting at least, and possibly vigils, are two of the bodily practices associated with Lent.
Dadisho goes on to say: “The two virtues of the soul by which pure prayer is constituted – I mean peaceableness and humility – are the ones taught by our Lord: ‘Learn from me, for I am peaceable and humble in my heart, and you shall find peace for your souls.’”
And not only for your souls, we might add, but for the whole world. Who can tell, at any moment, what calamities the pure prayer of humble people is averting from the world or from our country at the present time? As the reading from Exodus concludes: “So the Lord relented in the punishment he had threatened to inflict on his people”.