Several months back, Fred Putnam recommended to me A.G. Sertillanges’ excellent little book, The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions and Methods. After some initial frustration over the pronunciation of this Dominican priest’s name (help with French, anyone?), I settled into what has been a very unsettling and stimulating read.
Sertillanges’ book is translated, and someday I would like to learn French and read it in the original. Sertillanges’ prose must be even more elegant and beautiful than this excellent translation. I am content for now, however, with the English.
The book contains many quotable nuggets, and I thought I would share the one that convicted me most recently:
Study has been called a prayer to truth. Now prayer, the Gospel tells us, must be uninterrupted: “We ought always to pray and not to faint” (Luke 18:1). I know that this text is capable of a modified interpretation; the sense would then be: do not spend a day, a week, any long period, without speaking to God. But our masters have taken good care not so to narrow down words of such great import; they have taken them literally, and have drawn a profound doctrine from them.
Prayer is the expression of desire; its value comes from our inward aspirations, from their tenor and their strength. Take away desire, the prayer ceases; alter it, the prayer changes; increase or diminish its intensity, the prayer soars upward or has no wings. Inversely, take away the expression while leaving the desire, and the prayer in many ways remains intact. Has a child who says nothing but looks longingly at a toy in a shop window, and then at his smiling mother not formulated the most moving prayer? And even if he had not seen the toy, is not the desire for play, innate in the child as is the thirst for movement, in the eyes of his parents a standing prayer which they grant?
We ought always to pray is the same as saying: we must always desire eternal things, the temporal things which serve the eternal, our daily bread of every kind and for every need, life in all its fullness earthly and heavenly. (pp. 69-70)
Now, Sertillanges’ point pertains to the perpetuity of study, of learning, of thought. But the point is equally valid for prayers to God as for “prayers to truth.” To “pray without ceasing” is to live with an attitude of prayer, a continual longing to know God. I confess that too often too many other longings crowd out that desire.