From In the Spirit of Happiness
Unceasing prayer is not a technique. To isolate Saint Paul’s admonition, to take it out of its context, does violence to his intent. Surrounding the admonition are two other exhortations that express how he conceived unceasing prayer:
Be happy always:
Greet everyone and everything openly and cheerfully, even in adversity. Sing together joyfully.
Pray without ceasing:
Don’t forget to pray; be open to God’s presence. Don’t stop praying together just because difficulties arise, or when everything’s fine. Pay attention and avoid distractions.
Be grateful in all circumstances:
Be generous and appreciative, find something positive, even during reversals and setbacks. Display your unity and heal your divisions by giving thanks in prayer and eucharist.
For this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.
(1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; translation New Skete)
Reflecting on this in class one day with the whole community, Father Laurence observed, Every Jew was expected to pray three times a day, but if we leave it at that, we’ve missed the point entirely. Saint Paul isn’t just recommending that basic prescription; much more profoundly, he’s exhorting his readers to an attitude, a frame of mind, a way of being that’s outgoing no matter how discouraged they might happen to be, a habitual, unfailing spirit of joyful openness and largess. In other words, he’s reminding his listeners of their recent baptism and liberation from the law, and of the more profound spirit of Christ that should prevail in their new life together. This means being consciously constantly conscious of the presence of God amidst the changing complexion of everyday life. This is what unceasing prayer means, not saying prayers continually. As we grow up, as we learn to respond creatively with faithful trust in the presence of God in the most difficult of human circumstances – tragedies, disagreements, even moments of ennui – we’ll manifest the constant prayerful direction that doesn’t flinch in the face of doubt, darkness, despair, and even death.