Prayer: Keep The Lights On


One fine day, bouncing along the potholes of a boulevard in New York, the driver of the car in which I was a passenger proclaimed in increasingly shrill tones as we passed a cloistered convent: What a waste of life!! What good do those nuns do? They’re not helping anyone! They’re not doing any good just sitting around all day praying! And a few other less salient comments I have no desire to spell out on these pages.

He was very righteous and very angry.

What he was righteous and angry about I have no idea. But according to him, he was taking the moral high ground for advocating doing good works. Not, I might add, *his* doing good works, but that’s what he thought those lazy nuns should be doing.

I managed a weak defense of the nuns, but I didn’t put much energy into it. Not because I couldn’t think of anything, rather I was pretty sure my words would be lost in the ether of his bloviating.

I could have said something about the good work these praying nuns do by increasing the holiness quotient of the greater New York region, but that would have been met with the kind of words I’m pretty sure you are not supposed to use in the hearing of nuns, so I didn’t.

I could have proposed for his pondering the good they were doing in praying for the protection of us, all of us, Christians, non-Christians and even ‘re-covering’ Catholics as he called himself. But, that, I knew, would have been met with derisive laughter, and his questioning of my intelligence, so I didn’t.

I was already rather nervous about us crashing into a tree because of the speed we were traveling over those ragged potholes, so I let the subject go as a public service. A three car pile-up on Springfield Boulevard over his unreasonable anger at the career choices of a group of women would have served no good purpose and would have given the nuns more work praying for our souls slipping the bonds of our mangled bodies on their front door.

I would have liked to explain that those nuns, and all the pray-ers of the world are everyday engaged in a muscular battle between good and evil, between hope and despair, between light and dark.

It is a muscular robust battle that takes real strength and grace to persevere in prayer. Even for those fortunate souls gifted with consolations of prayer, the sweet light, a drop of ecstasy in the company of Our Lord, the physical/emotional/intellectual stirring of the Holy Spirit when you turn toward God in the apprehension of the Imminent, your open soul is liable to attack from the dark forces which want you to remain just the way you are, comfortably uncomfortable in your darkness and ignorance.

This is the life work of those nuns tucked away in that convent.

They keep the lights on.

With every act of sin, the world gets a little dimmer, a little darker. Sin casts a dark veil over the world, layer upon layer. And if we, in our free will, do not do battle with the darkness, if we do not align ourselves with Christ and pray, the veils get thicker, the light dimmer.

Joining in that spiritual warfare are all the people praying around their kitchen tables or with their children and grandchildren, all the volunteers who start each day on their knees or fingering their Rosaries, because they know from whence their strength comes.

We have the choice to crowd out our yearning to be one with God through noise. Through anger or self-pity or greed or gluttony and any of the other death dealing sins.

I wish I could have spoken to him of the Communion of Saints, all those souls for generations beyond counting whose prayers and love paved the way for us, passed down the faith, whose cooperation with God kept the world spinning long enough for us to get to birth and enjoy the beauties of the magnificent world God has created for us.

But I didn’t speak to him of these things. I didn’t, because the evidence he presented to me showed me that in his free will, he refused to understand.

However, I can pray for him. So, that is what I will do.

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17 thoughts on “Prayer: Keep The Lights On”

    1. Trina, of course you should join the discussion! Every comment you made is true for all of us who pray, no matter what denomination we attend. Prayer, seen by many as a passive thing, even just something for children, miss the point entirely. We have the ferocious image of St Michael slaying Satan for very good reasons. And the spiritual battle is real and needs more prayer and support from each other to defeat darkness.

    2. Great post! Thank you!
      We all need to keep the lights on because it seems that it is only getting darker and darker out there. But where Jesus is, there is always light and hope! You never know what your prayers can do!

  1. There are — let’s be honest –those moments when for one reason or anther we just don’t feel in a praying mood. The spirit isn’t upon us. I’m guessing there are times when the “spirit” isn’t upon one or another of those nuns. (Mother Theresa referred to such a dark time in her journal, I believe.) It is when the spirit doesn’t seem to be upon us, I suspect, that The Spirit is most upon us.

    1. Bill, yes– the life of prayer cannot be separated from the difficulties, or darkness– of prayer– I think that is something we skip over when introducing someone to the Christian life or encourage them to pray. We need more voices encouraging each other to persist in prayer, even, or especially when we don’t ‘feel’ the Holy Spirit stirring our souls

  2. This is why many in the Church are concerned about how our society somehow thinks that a person has value only if they are productive. Of course these nuns are more productive than any of us in the most valuable spiritual work they do, but they aren’t in a factory building widgets. But widgets only last until they wear out. Once they wear out they have no value and are thrown away. The prayers of these nuns last for eternity. Now who exactly is ‘waste of life’?

    1. our world is geared to better, faster, more powerful and results one can tally on a profit sheet and when that doesn’t sustain us we rush to make another widget that is even faster– We, all of us, whether we are ‘professional’ pray-ers like monks and nuns, or ordinary folks just going about our tasks, need to join in the movement for increased prayer because the world is in grave need of turning back the darkness of sin.

  3. “all the volunteers who start each day on their knees or fingering their
    Rosaries, because they know from whence their strength comes.

    BAM. That’s the crux of your entire article, right there. Mother Theresa spent an hour or so in Eucharistic Adoration every day before or amidst going about her daily work in the slums.

    Why do so many of us indulge in false dichotomies that separate prayer and helping the poor, when man is both matter and spirit, not either/or, and we therefore have both the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy for good reason? A person could, for example, be praying for the grace to want less so that they may be more generous, knowing full well that they’re not as detached from the goods of this world as they’d like to be. When a person prays the Rosary, they pray for all of the virtues that make receptivity to Christ– and thus living the Way, the Truth, and the Life– possible.

    1. Well, we have been fed the lie that we must separate faith from the rest of life– I once worked with a young man who proclaimed that religion was fine for Sundays but leave morality at the door of the office– (he was later sent to prison for embezzlement) we, of course, need our integrity, our oneness and not our splitting, wherever we are and whoever we are with and of course, as baptized Christians, that might cost us– well, it will cost us

      Thanks for continuing the discussion

  4. Thanks Gary and Carlos– I am often amazed at the utilitarian-empiricist folks who refuse to see the movement of the heart, mind and soul as something which proceeds and informs actions and ways of life. Carlos, in my defense this companion of mind was raised in the same household as I and no matter the evidence persists in his ‘convictions”. But you are correct, witness is important. As are prayers.

  5. Interesting. I hate to say it but the silent actions of the author, or many others for that matter, are contrary to Christian expectations. We are instruments of the Holy Spirit. Through us, this individual might get a glimpse of the truth and begin to change his thinking process. We can’t assume what and how he will react. Action is the key to evangelization.

  6. Pingback: 7 Ways to Grow in Holiness Before Noon -

  7. Thank you, Julianne-Puts in today-rrods 1 Thess 5: “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.…”. The nuns, without knowing your driver, were praying for him. You made me smile when I realized the truth of what you said about keeping the lights on. Thansk. Guy McClung, San Antonio

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