discussing today's fascinating Gospel story and reflecting on what
it teaches us about prayer I will first explain what I mean by some
of the words used. I understand pleasure to be the opposite of pain.
Pleasure is more short lived and immediate than happiness or joy.
Suffering and sorrow are the opposites of happiness and joy. I think
all human beings are seeking happiness but we often settle for pleasure
in its stead. All the great spiritualities of the world point to detachment
from immediate pleasure as a necessity for happiness, for getting
to deeper and more long lasting joy. Transcendence of pleasure does
not mean its denial. Pleasure is a driving force in our lives and
leads us to do most of the things necessary for survival. The human
race would not survive for long if we did not have the pleasures of
warmth, food and sex. The problem arises when we get stuck on the
pleasure level and this does not allow us to transcend, to go beyond
to another level.
extraordinary story that we read in today's Gospel is a sort of Psycho-drama
which tells us what becoming human meant to Jesus. It meant that he,
like us, had to struggle with the temptation to settle for pleasure
rather that to aim at transcendence. Not only that but the tempter
wanted him to use his divinity to escape the human struggle. He wanted
him to avoid accepting his humanity by solving his problems through
miracles. He wanted him to settle for an easy pleasure, as we all
tend to desire, rather than to aim at transcendence.
story of Christ is, of course, the story of each person. As we face
the harsh realities of life and seek happiness, we adopt different
ways of responding to our experiences. Some respond in a more rational
way, some more emotionally and yet others in an instinctual way. Each
of these ways of responding has its inherent strength and weakness.
energy of the rational person comes from his head. He wants to know
more about the topic to be discussed. Gradually getting more becomes
an obsession with them. They not only need more knowledge but they
also need more possessions, more courage, more fun. They tend to store
up all sorts of things and find it hard to let go. They are afraid
that there will not be enough left for themselves if they give to
others. There sense of security comes from the thought that they have
possessions. They tend to be very wise and careful people but their
problem is in moving into action.
tempter in our Gospel story began by trying to seduce Jesus to produce
possessions easily. He suggested that he use his divine power to make
possessions; to turn stones into bread. But Jesus answered him "Scripture
says: People do not live on bread alone." While food and possessions
are essential to life there is something even more to life than them.
energies of the instinctual type of person comes from the gut. They
can sense danger in their gut and they move to protect themselves
from being overwhelmed by it. They have a very strong sense of inner
authority. They are very concerned about justice and order but will
sometimes find themselves violating the freedom of others by bulldozing
others into doing what is for their own good. In their efforts to
make all things and people perfect they find it very hard to have
patience with ordinary, less perfect human beings. Their giftedness
is in their high energy and noble ideals but this makes them want
to have power over others.
tempter tried to seduce Jesus through power and control. "Then
leading him to a height, the devil showed him in a moment of time
all the kingdoms of the world and said to him, 'I will give you all
this power and the glory of these kingdoms, for it has been committed
to me and I give to anyone I choose. Worship me, then, and it shall
Jesus answered him, 'Scripture says:
must worship the lord your God and serve him alone.'"
rejected the gut temptation to worship power.
energies of the emotional type of person are in the heart. These people
are very much concerned about their appearance. They reach out to
do good, they are doers. But deep down their great need is to look
good, to receive adulation and praise not only from others but also
from within themselves. They have been described as fish in a bowl.
They are very conscious of others looking at them. Their giftedness
is in their capacity to respond to a situation. They are helpful,
efficient, and often artistic. Their weakness is in their pride and
vanity. The cannot resist the limelight. Often their values are taken
more from what others think of them than from true interior conviction.
devil tempted Jesus to see if his weakness was in the heart area,
if he would settle for a cheap popularity. "Then he led him to
Jerusalem and made him stand on the parapet of the temple. 'If you
are the Son of God,' he said to him 'throw yourself down from here,'
for Scripture says; 'He will put his angels in charge of you to guard
you,' and again, 'they will hold you up in their hands in case you
hurt your foot against a stone.'
Jesus answered him, 'It has been said; you must not put the lord your
God to the test.'
exhausted these ways of tempting him the devil left him, to return
at the appointed time." In this last temptation the devil tries
to get at Jesus' vanity. He tries to make him prove himself, "
you are the Son of God."' But Jesus would not succumb to the
temptation to prove himself for others in a cheap way then as he also
refused to do later. On Calvary the crowds said the same thing, "if
you are the son of God come down from the cross."
tried and failed to find Jesus' weakness in either the head, gut or
heart, the devil seemed exhausted and withdrew for some time. If Jesus
cannot be seduced in the areas where all others fail, he is a formidable
are several ways in which this discussion is relevant to prayer. A
lot of our traditional prayer is actually aimed at satisfying our
needs, or fixations, at the head, gut or heart levels. A lot of our
prayers is "give me" prayer instead of "Not my will
but thine be done." We are generally saying in practice when
we pray, "My will be done" and "My kingdom come"
instead of Your kingdom come.
meditation one sits still repeating only a single word. When doing
this one quickly notices one's distractedness and gently returns to
the prayer word. This practice teaches one also to notice one's weakness
- one's sin area - and gives one a chance to decide not to succumb
to it. This is how meditation helps us to grow towards transcendence.
one is able to identify which is their strongest space, the head with
its desire for possession, the gut with its yearning for power and
the heart with its propensity towards prestige, one will also find
clues on how to pray with better concentration. Head persons tend
to be locked up inside their inner worlds and they often find an external
focus helpful. They like to pray before a mandala, a candle, a crucifix,
a tabernacle or some focusing object. The heart people are given to
activity. If they pray along with their breathing, saying the prayer
word with the incoming and outgoing breath, this activity seems to
have a settling effect on them and helps them to be more still. The
gut-centered person is poised between the thinking head and the active
heart. Focusing either on their breathing or on an external object
may be helpful for them. They are the natural meditators. The can
sit still for long hours. However, it is often very hard to know whether
this is prayerful stillness or just mental vacuity. They are so afraid
of being overwhelmed by their unprocessed emotions that they easily
narcotize themselves into sleepy peace.
we know where our strong points are we will also know where our weaknesses
lie. Knowing this we will know better how to pray so that while enjoying
the legitimate pleasures of life we will not allow them to fixate
us and prevent us transcending to a deeper joy and a greater happiness.