Prayer and Preparation to Love

“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.
If there were not,
would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?
And if I go and prepare a place for you,
I will come back again and take you to myself,
so that where I am you also may be.” (Jn 14: 2-4)

Among all the passages in Jesus’s Last Supper Discourses, this is among my favorites. The idea of living “in God’s house” has much to offer as an image. Here Jesus addresses both the universality and the particularity of God’s love. There are many dwelling places in the Father’s home; for me, this emphasizes that God embraces the diversity of different personalities, cultures, attitudes, and characters. There is a place for everyone, as in the image Jesus offers of a tree that grows from a mustard seed and has many branches for the “birds of the air” to rest upon (Luke 13:19). At the same time, Jesus assures his friends that God prepares a place for “you,” for these particular friends of his. God’s love is both universal and particular. We see those two dimensions of love reflected in our everyday human loves, too: we’re both called to love other people agapically, to love everyone simply because we are all part of the same human family and all loved by God, and we are called to love some people in our lives in a more particular way: family, friends, mentors, neighbors, those whom God has placed on our path in some special way. When we love other people, we are also loving the Lord and when we love the Lord we cannot help but love others whom He loves.

I also like the language of “preparation” here. Teresa of Avila spoke about a mansion of many houses in her work on prayer. Prayer is both an act of loving and a preparation for loving. We pray to God because we love God. We pray for others because we love them in God. But we also pray to address those incomplete, not yet formed, or confused places in our lives and our selves that need healing, formation, or re-structuring. For example, we pray in the Lord’s prayer to be fed, and to know and to offer forgiveness–but these are things that take time in prayer and arise like the grace of a wind on a hot summer’s day, after time.

Prayer is how God prepares us to love, and already an act of love. When we pray, we are brought closer to being where Jesus is, through Jesus showing us the way.

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