“The Jewish leaders did not recognize that Jesus was speaking of the Father. So Jesus then continued, ‘When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I am He and that I do nothing on my own accord. What I say is what the Father has taught Me; the One who sent Me is with Me, and has not left Me to Myself, for I always do what pleases the Father.’ ” – John 8:27-29
‘Tis a paradox this matter of Jesus being both fully human and fully divine, of being one with the Father but yet being in a relationship with the Father. From the first days of the Christian Way this understanding of Jesus being both human and divine has been a struggle to explain. Yet this dual nature of Christ is not merely a theological exercise, it is also the paradigm for the Christian Way of life. At the heart of our Christian experience is that within our living there is an interplay between our human reality and our divine potentiality. In a certain limited way, when we live in Christ, Christ lives is us, and our humanity and God’s divinity does some intermingle, our divine possibility ever inviting and instructing and enabling our transformation into our more Perfect Christ-like selves.
One of the Brothers here at Greyfriars’ Abbey is known as a man fully immersed in prayer. He prays aloud with the Brothers in the praying the prayers of the Daily Office. And he is often observed spending hours in quiet, contemplative prayer. And, on occasion, you can observe this prayerful Brother seeming talking to himself, when in truth, he is involved in conversational prayer with the Lord. When I first saw Brother Dominic walk by in this manner of prayer, I asked a nearby Brother if that monk was talking to himself or was he talking to God? The Brother answered with a measure of mystical whimsey, “Oh, I reckon Brother Dominic is doing both of those conversations at the same time. I have come to understand that sometimes prayer involves a sharing of your heart both with God and with yourself.” I gave an expression that confessed, “I don’t understand.” To which this wise Brother then said, “Sometimes prayer is a matter of the Divine Echo.”
The Divine Echo … I can remember my standing at the edge of the canyon with the mountains stretching out before me. Responding to an almost instinctual urge, I would call out to the distant mountains. My voice would travel out from me and, in their time, upon reaching the far canyon walls, my voice would return to me. But when my words returned to me, somehow my voice was not the same. In the echo, I not only heard the timbre of my own voice but also a share of the timbre of the canyon. The echo thus was both mine and the canyon’s.
Such is the matter of prayer sometimes. In the act of conversational prayer, we share what is on our minds and in our hearts, speaking “aloud” prayerful words so that God might hear those human words of ours. But, then in our listening for that Divine Echo, we can hear our words now with the added resonance of God. Jesus, though divine Himself, still allowed his human self to converse with the divinity of God, in a conversation between the Son of Man and the Son of God, both experiencing and modeling the Christian miracle found in the coming together of the human and the divine. This coming together we saw first in Christ and now we experience this coming together in our lives in Christ. So Brother Dominic – in this one, specific form of prayer – was indeed both talking to God and talking to himself,… only this in this prayerful attitude, he was hearing both his own words and the Echo of God.
In my years of Pastoral Care, I learned how helpful it is to bounce one’s own feelings and thoughts off the soul of someone who cares. It is an art this work of reflecting back in a helpful way the words one shares with you. The answer is not found in the debate or the correction, or even the advice, but more in the reflection and the amplification in the sharing back and forth. In the pastoral conversation, a heart is shared and then is lovingly echoed back, allowing the sharer to hear his or her own words in the voice of another. Sometimes for the Christian, prayer is that pastoral conversation between our human reality and our divine potentiality. As Christians, we must remember the mystery, even the paradox, that God is both out there in the majestic mountains and in those places deep within us where echoes do mingle in holy conversation.
Brother Anthony of the Cross