Into the Deep


“Do you remember our Lord’s words to Simon: Launch out into the deep? There is always a temptation to think of religion as something added on to the main business of life, like an annex to a building; but if we think of it like that we miss its whole meaning, and the meaning and adventure of life. It is not something added on to life, but an entirely new dimension into which life is plunged as you plunge into the sea. The temptation is always to live on the surface of life: to concern ourselves with the jobs and joys that every day brings without bothering our heads about what lies beneath it all; but that means not living fully at all, because it means that there is a lack of depth in our lives. No; launch out into the deep, our Lord tells us; it can be a frightening thing, the first time you plunge into the sea, because you are in a new strange element; but if you go on you forget the fright and enjoy the thrill, the sense of freedom; and the strange element becomes friendly and buoyant even while it remains immense.


“That is what religion is meant to be like: it means, not just knowing more things than you otherwise would, but knowing something underneath all things, knowing the secret heart of things, because you know the Presence, the Love, that is in and about all things. It means plunging into the divine life as a diver plunges into the sea. That is why our Lord said that he came that we might have life and have it more abundantly; if you plunge into this element you escape from the narrow confines of the selfish and the shallow, and move in immensity. It can be frightening; but again he tells us, Fear not; and there is always his hand to sustain us and encourage us as he sustained and gave courage to Peter when he was sinking.


“How do we set out on this adventure? The answer is a very simple one. In the Mass and the other sacraments we are offered abundance of power, of life; but if we take part in these things as a routine, just carrying out the externals but not living the inner reality, we shall not make use of the life and the power: we shall never take the plunge. What we need is, quite simply, prayer: the attempt to get to know God and not merely know about him, to be aware of him, to live with him — and in him. If we make that attempt we shall begin to understand what love is, what life is; we shall begin to see things — all things — in a new and richer light; we shall begin to live a life that is really exciting because it is deep.


“But there are two important things to notice. First, it is a long job; it demands not only courage but a great deal of hard and sustained effort. But secondly, though it may be hard, it is not complicated: on the contrary, it is something so simple that the most ignorant and illiterate can succeed as well as the brilliant and learned. What do you have to do? Simply this: you have to make up your mind that every day you will spend a little time — say a quarter of an hour — being with God, being aware of him. And how can anyone be aware of the Invisible? You try to make yourself quite quiet; and then, perhaps with the help of some book which seems to you individually to make God very real, you think a little about him: you can praise and think and love and be sorry and put yourself in his hands. Some people find that they do not need that preliminary reading or thinking; they can fix their eyes for a moment on the tabernacle, for instance, and then can at once begin to say slowly over and over again some little phrase which for them individually is very full of meaning, very full of God — it might for example be, Launch out into the deep, or it might be, My Lord and my God — but whatever it is, it seems to plunge them into the infinity of God; and they repeat the phrase or a word from it for as long as it does so help them, and then they go on to another. You can make your own small book of phrases in that way, and that is a better sort of prayer book than some you find which are full of very grand rhetoric. Finally, some people find that they do not need any words at all: they can just kneel and be conscious of God and love him and send their love out to him, and receive from him immense renewal of strength in return; and that is the best way of all. And it may be that sometimes you will need one kind and sometimes another; you have to discover your own particular needs; but what is certain is that, if sometimes this prayer-time is full of joy and happiness, at other times it will be very hard work indeed and full of distractions, and then you will be tempted to give it up as hopeless. That is the one thing you must never do: those are the times when the real work is done.


“You remember how Simon answered our Lord: Master, we have labored all night and have taken nothing. That is what. you may often feel about your prayer. But you must go on as Simon did: At thy word I will let down the net; and then you remember St. Luke tells us that when they had done this they enclosed a very great multitude of fishes. Sometimes people fail because they are trying to pray in a way for which they are not suited; but usually that kind of dryness as it is called, the sense of terrible effort and lack of results, is a necessary stage in the adventure, the discovery of a way of teaching us really to love the God we are finding, and not just (as it might otherwise be) the joy of the finding.


“Nobody expects an adventure to be nothing but effortless ease. This is the greatest adventure of all, since it is what, through God’s mercy, reveals to us life in its fullness; it is worth the effort. Remember the words of St. Alphonsus: If a man will promise me a quarter of an hour’s mental prayer every day, I will promise him heaven. We might add that he may not have to wait till the next life to discover heaven: this daily simple being-with-God can bring him even in this life into the deep places which are the stuff of heaven: can show him God’s love and God’s glory, and turn earth, in spite of all its sin and suffering, into a heaven for him by showing it to him as the place where that love and that glory dwell.” (Fr. Gerald Vann, The High Green Hill, ch. 2)

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