I think one of the biggest challenges in religion that we face today is getting into the subordinate mindset. At least I find it so. Between science and liberalism, we’re used to standing in an ostensibly superior position, where our judgment and our opinions are what really matter. We expect to be able to ‘see through’ whatever we’re presented with, to take it in more or less at a glance, or at least once we’ve taken the time to understand it. “What’s really going on here is…” “The tree is like this because of these factors.” “In my judgment…”
Today we’re used to taking things apart and trying to boil them down to some kind of mechanical formula, to reduce them to the level of mere ‘nature’, as Professor Lewis put it. If there are remaining mysteries, they are ones that will be figured out in time, with research.
As with humanity as a whole facing nature, so with individuals facing each other. Hatred of elitism, of inequality from both sides of the liberal spectrum are an assumed thing. We’re always urged to think for ourselves, make our own judgments, to hold our opinion as valuable as anyone else’s (which, in our current system, it is! They both count for nothing. But I digress). That is, unless we dare question one of the unquestionables, of course.
Now, I don’t think this is a healthy attitude in any case (though as a product of this system I feel it strongly myself), but it’s especially out of place when it comes to the things of Heaven. When we pray to God…no, let’s not go that far yet. When we pray to the Saints, we are addressing people immensely superior to ourselves in every way imaginable: dignity, knowledge, power, status, beauty, and so on. We are children addressing, not just adults, but adults of great importance.
Of course, when we address God directly this is much more the case, as He stands infinitely higher than the highest Saint or Angel than they stand above us.
The point being, we aren’t used to simply listening and accepting: to being explicit subjects and inferiors before those who demand our respect and are under no obligation to return the favor; to setting our own judgment and our own restless desire for understanding aside and being humbly accepting of what is before us.
What I am trying, perhaps clumsily, to get at is the need for humility; for seeing the thing before you, not as something for you to take in and comprehend, not as something subject to your judgment, but as a something external to yourself and possessed of mysteries to which you will never be privy. In the case of prayer, as something far above you, of whom you may demand nothing but only beg.
In a word, that you aren’t really very important and should know your place.
This sounds harsh, but it is actually very liberating (from the fitful experiences I’ve had of it). Because you see that everything doesn’t depend on you. You aren’t required to understand or to make a judgment, you don’t need to be particularly wonderful or perfect. You just need to ask and accept what is given, trusting that it is for your good because He who gives it is Goodness itself.
“[I]t had been supposed that the fullest possible enjoyment is to be found by extending our ego to infinity, the truth is that the fullest possible enjoyment is to be found by reducing our ego to zero.”
-G.K. Chesterton, Heretics