Quality versus quantity in our spiritual lives
Two monks were doing their daily rituals. One got on his knees and prayed, "Oh master, I am nothing, I don't exist, all there is, is You." The other bowed even lower and said, "Oh great one, I am less than nothing! I don't exist and I never did. You are all there is!"
In the corner a janitor was watching and thinking, "Hmmm, that looks pretty good! I think I'll try that." He spoke, "Oh mighty one, I too am nothing, you are everything." One monk said with disdain, "Humph! Look who suddenly thinks he's nothing!"
What is the ingredient of true piety? What is growth in the love of God and what is not? Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange reminds us that “growth in the spiritual life is not quantitative—it doesn’t mean an increase in size, ‘like a heap of wheat.’” Rather, “spiritual growth is qualitative—the love of God ‘becomes stronger’ and ‘takes deeper root’ in our souls.”
In other words Garrigon says, “when we advance in the spiritual life, we don’t just love God more, but more deeply.” As regards the number of works we perform, “it is not the amount of our acts that pleases God, but the fervor with which we perform them—not the quantity, but the quality,” Garrigon says. (from Nicholas Senz, “Pope St John Paul II’s teacher gave this warning about prayer”)
Applying this to our prayer life, it is not the sheer number of prayers we say that brings us closer to God. It is the fervour with which we pray and the love of God we experience in the exchange.
A husband and wife strengthen their love by generous actions toward each other, not by a larger number of imperfect activities they may share. Giving your heart to God in prayer is not the same as repeating the Lord’s prayer one hundred times.
How do we make this more perfect relationship with God happen? By recognizing the places where God can meet us. The earth is full of “Gateways to heaven” as we see in Genesis 28:10-22. Jacob sleeps with his head on a common rock and has a dream.
When he awakes Jacob says, “Surely the Lord is in this place … This is non other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven”. Then he set the rock on a pillar, poured oil on it, and called the place Bethel.
Just as Jacob called this place “God’s house”, we can have a favorite place to meet with God in prayer. It may be in a quiet part of our home or a spot in nature. The world is full of places to meet God since God is everywhere.
It is easy to create a place of habitual prayer in our daily lives. It may be the presence of a religious icon, a crucifix or a favorite picture that reminds us of God’s love. Picture Jesus sitting across from you on a chair when you visit with him.
Your gateway to heaven may change as time and your life pass by. Eventually it might be a smaller apartment or even a hospital bed. Jesus will be present. Carl Jung said, “Invited or not, God is present.” Let our maturing spirituality keep pace.