The waters of grace

I have written about the importance of praying grace before ( It is one of the treasures of Ignatian spirituality that I have come to appreciate most in recent years.

Teresa of Avila uses the metaphor of watering a garden to describe our varying experiences of prayer. She writes that in the beginning we make great efforts akin to drawing water from a well. Sooner or later we discover a stream running nearby and no longer have to draw water from the well, but we can carry it from the stream. Then we realise that actually the stream runs through the garden and we can simply divert the stream to where we most need water. Finally we discover that it rains periodically, and watering through our own efforts is not necessary.

I am always slightly wary of any ‘hierarchy’ in prayer terms.I am wary because it can seem that we can will ourselves to next level, or if we are sufficiently good or whatever that we will be ‘rewarded’ – all of those can lead to fairly toxic experiences in faith communities. But I have been reflecting on this image this week.

I find myself wondering whether the practice of prayer doesn’t allow for some internal ‘rewiring’. I have come to believe firmly in the power of praying for grace in areas of stuckness – and I think this is a bit like the diversion of the stream. Grace (the water) flows to the area I recognise as being in need. The internal shift happens because of the grace not through my own efforts.

This week, I had a most extraordinary realisation that an internal place of stuckness had become free – not through my own efforts, not even through my praying of grace. It just happened – using Teresa’s image – the rain fell. It wasn’t an act of will, it was nothing I can claim as my own. Simply choosing to act has allowed a new pathway to exist. And I find myself wondering whether the practice of being willing to sit in the ‘stuckness’ and praying for grace over recent years hasn’t allowed an internal rewiring to happen.

I’m not claiming that such grace is now at my finger tips, and I can sit back and relax. But rather to say, maybe, just maybe the image that Teresa offers is correct. Maybe it gets easier because we learn to notice the real movements. Maybe we learn that the real benefit of prayer is that it shapes how we are in the world, rather than directly shaping the world.

I am sure I will continue to stumble along my way, sometimes it will rain and sometimes I will be lamenting the dryness of the well. But for today, I remain astounded by the extraordinary generosity of God.

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