Prayer: “Gladness of the best”

Part 20 in a series; see other parts here.

Although our world roils with its share of ugliness and violence, it also brims with beauty and goodness. Everything from a child’s hug to Duruflé motets to an insalata caprese with perfectly ripe summer tomatoes and basil fresh from the garden, good fresh mozzarella, a little sea salt, a robust olive oil, and aged balsamic vinegar purchased at an acetaia in Modena—such things enliven our world and carry with them the savor of divine life.

We pray whenever we relish that savor, and prayer helps to refine our palates for it. Through prayer we learn to find it almost everywhere: in mountains and grassy fields, in a quiet evening at home, in the hurly-burly of city streets, in operatic intricacies, in the pleasure of conversation, in the taste of simple food, in paintings, and most of all in each other. It’s easy to associate the best with opulence, luxury, and expense, and even though that may be in some instances true, it is not even close to exhaustive.

The greatest of all, though, is love. Most people readily appreciate acts of love without needing to pray. Prayer’s value lies in helping us see opportunities to give more love. In prayer we attend to things that are often not the best in hope that they can become better; we learn to find gladness in the beauty that might be, and that gives us the courage to work toward it. This very human inclination to make life better for ourselves and others is itself a beauty worth savoring.

Human efforts can of course go astray, and prayer can help us to see the good in a mistaken impulse, so that we can put out the wildfire without smothering the spark. Staying attuned to the best so that we can be glad of it requires ongoing delicate adjustments, for which the heightened sensitivities of prayer offer a great help. In a sense, attending to the best amounts to a deep kind of prayer, so in learning to do that we pray to become better at prayer. Then we see that God gave us everything we need to pray, discovering that prayer itself is an integral part of the best, and we begin to take gladness in it, too.