by KATHY SCHMUGGE
COLUMBIA — “There never seems to be enough time: not enough time at work to finish each task we are given; not enough time for spouses, children, families, and friends; not enough time for ourselves; not enough time for God,” said Dr. Keith Barron. A staff counselor for Palmetto Health, he addressed more than 150 people at St. Peter Church as part of the parish-sponsored adult education series.
Barron, who also does pastoral counseling, had recently returned from the New York/New Jersey area where he worked as a volunteer for two weeks with the Red Cross Disaster Mental Health Services, comforting people directly affected by the Sept. 11 tragedy. Such an experience probably gave him new insight on just how important it is to find time to cultivate a relationship with God.
In his talk, titled “A Conversation with God,” Barron brought to light the prominent role prayer plays in revealing God’s will in all things. He explained how more than 90 percent of family disagreements and marital strife could be resolved through praying together. But obstacles exist in preventing prayer from becoming a natural part of one’s life; the doctor discussed several of them.
“One of the major stumbling blocks in the life of prayer is the idea that prayer is primarily something we do, like working, studying, playing sports or sewing. The emphasis is all too often on what we do in prayer … by what we get out of prayer,” said Barron. He added that the quality of prayer is not judged by how many prayers a person says or by how good they feel, but by the degree they love their neighbor and love God.
Barron pointed out that authentic prayer is prayer in the Holy Spirit, which is “the Spirit of sonship and daughtership empowering us to cry out, Abba! Father.” It is an invitation for God to work for, with, and in a person.
Another obstacle to prayer that he mentioned was “inordinate desires,” defined as wanting something more than God.
“Anything that we attach ourselves to that blocks God is an idol,” he said. The counselor gave examples of the television, the telephone, and eating and explained how these desires may be subdued through exercising religious self-discipline (asceticism) and through the sacraments that keep the spirit healthy like physical exercise keeps the body healthy.
He discussed the five steps to becoming open in love to God who dwells within us through personal prayer: It is through participation in the sacramental life of the church, cultivation of a deep desire and a longing for God, removal of the obstacles to God, preparing/planning for prayer such as family prayer time and “entering into the Word of God.”
He gave one way to enter into the Word of God through divine reading (lectio divina), which involves three readings of the same Scripture passage but with different actions following each reading. It begins with (meditatio) meditating over the words and images of a Scripture passage, (oratio) praying spontaneously from the heart, and (contemplatio) contemplating God by allowing him to fill an empty soul with divine goods. A communal prayer such as the Our Father or Hail Mary is said by all present following the contemplative step. It ends like all conversation with God should end, “carrying forth and sharing the graces received in prayer through loving action for others.” (incarnatio)
Barron led the participants in one of many meditative methods, so that the group might have a better understanding of prayer with Scripture. The reaction was positive from those who tried the technique.
“I have practiced this type of meditation, and this talk reminded me of what I should be doing. It was good news to my heart,” said Louise Womble, a parishioner of St. Peter Church. Another parishioner, Mariela Cisco, also enjoyed the presentation.
“I am always looking for new ways to pray especially with a two year old at home. It was useful because in a short time I felt such closeness to God. I felt the peace of a deep sleep. I felt totally connected,” she explained.
“The Catholic Church teaches that all Christians are called to a loving union with God in this life. But such union is made possible only through a life of committed prayer — prayer that is true to the Gospel call, ‘to pray always and not lose heart,'” concluded Barron, who by talking about prayer and praying with the people brought them closer to this union Christ wants for all.