Jesus said to the disciples: “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your Kingdom come.”
Jesus tells us to repent because “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” We are taught throughout the spiritual tradition that we are not to search here or there for God’s kingdom because it is within us. Yet, as Jesus teaches us how to pray, he says that after first recognizing God as our Father and that God’s abode is heaven, we are then to pray that God’s kingdom come. This is the great spiritual paradox: the Kingdom is at hand and even within us, yet we must knock, seek, and ask for it to come.
To really pray, we need to realize in experience this paradox. There is a distance, perhaps an abyss, between God’s Kingdom and will and our own. By praying that God’s Kingdom come and that God’s will be done on earth as in heaven, we acknowledge that this distance and chasm is also a distance from the truth of ourselves. If the Kingdom of God is within us, and yet we are to seek its coming, we are acknowledging and repenting of the distance between God’s will and ours. We are realizing and repenting of the truth that the Kingdom is not present and manifest because we are inhibiting it, if not totally repressing it.
The Buddha’s Second Noble Truth is that attachment is the cause of all suffering. The attachment is to our desire to have (craving) and not to have (aversion). Freud rediscovered this truth with his recognition of the pleasure principle. We move toward pleasure and away from pain. My own recent experience reminds me of how determinative this attachment to craving and aversion remains in me. While experiencing these past weeks the discomfort, and the resultant difficulty in sleeping that is a result of my surgery, I realized that in many respects I was just passing and wasting time, just living for a future where I would no longer experience the discomfort. I would put off sitting still to write a letter or to work on a task because sitting still was too uncomfortable. In short, I ceased living my life in the present and rather dissociated myself from my real and actual experience for the sake of an imagined future free of pain. At moments I would ask myself, what will I do when the time comes that I will not get to feel better in this life? How will I live out those days in the real, that is in the Kingdom of God, rather than in the illusions of my own desires that things be otherwise?
We are restless and anxious because of the gap, the distance between what we wish for and what is. Rest and quiet can come only with full presence to and appropriation of the real. All the havoc we wreak as human beings comes from our refusal of the truth, of reality. This is very true politically as well as personally. As I write, the strongest October hurricane in history in the United States is bearing down on the Florida panhandle. It is but the latest sign of the damage, approaching the irreversible, that we as a race have inflicted and are inflicting on our planet. And yet, our policy makers in the United States are acting as if this is not the reality. They manifest the common human insanity of believing that reality is what we want rather than what truly is. Our will is invested in having our way, regardless of the evidence that our will, quite often, is profoundly mistaken. We are restless and anxious because we fear that life will not turn out our way, that for all our attempts we shall not be able to avoid what is pain to us and to achieve the pleasure that we crave.
St. Teresa of Avila says that to really pray the words “Thy Kingdom Come” is our access to a depth where we know the quiet of the union of our will with God’s. When we enter into the depth within where this “quiet” and “rest” abides, we experience it both in prayer and in action. In prayer we cease to knock, and seek, and ask because the door has been opened to us. When I can touch the quiet, I live in the truth of the present, with its sense of being well and its discomfort, with its joy and its sadness, with its strength and its weakness. I realize that all is well, even as I experience the complexity and contradictions of the real. And when I remain in the quiet, I am able to do whatever it is I am asked to do in the present. I don’t “do nothing” while waiting for the preferred future that may never come, but I respond to what is asked with what I am able to do.
This is the way that Teresa speaks of the non-dichotomized life of Martha and Mary. When there is no difference between God’s will and our will, between our world and the Kingdom of God, then we work, she says, “without knowing we do so.” Because God’s will and our will is one will, there is no willfulness in our work. We are not attempting to manipulate reality to have our own way or to produce our desired outcome, we are merely servants of God’s will, responding to the call of reality for our unique, if small, contribution.
Blaise Pascal famously said that “All human evil comes from a single cause, the human being’s inability to sit still in a room.” As the world around us seems to become increasingly more chaotic and absurd, the truth of Pascal’s insight is more evident. The “sound and fury” that surrounds us is in large part due to our inability to be, to know quiet. A confrere of mine has shared that every morning before going to his work in school he asks that God will help him to respond to what God asks of him that day in all those around him. To quiet our own will is to become receptive and available to what Reality asks of us. We live and act not imposing our will but responding to what God’s will asks of us. This, as St. Teresa says, is the uniting “of the active life with the contemplative.”
The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, but we need to quiet the demands of our own will to recognize it. We praise God in such recognition, repenting of our life long effort to be gods. His name becomes holy to us because we, in our exalted sense of self, have been “brought low.” We experience a unity of being in ourself and in the world for we live only to do the will of the Father. This was the realization of Dante who said: “In God’s will is our peace.” When we cease living out the contention between our will and God’s, the “sound and fury” the fear and anxiety ceases. As St. Teresa says, we live in the joy that comes from being at one, with God, ourselves, and the world.
Now, daughters, I still want to describe this Prayer of Quiet to you, in the way I have heard it talked about, and as the Lord has been pleased to teach it to me, perhaps in order that I might describe it to you. It is in this kind of prayer, as I have said, that the Lord seems to me to begin to show us that He is hearing our petition: He begins to give us His Kingdom on earth so that we may truly praise Him and hallow His name and strive to make others do so likewise. . . .
Occasionally, during this Prayer of Quiet, God grants the soul another favour which is hard to understand if one has not had long experience of it. But any of you who have had this will at once recognize it and it will give you great comfort to know what it is. I believe God often grants this favour together with the other. When this quiet is felt in a high degree and lasts for a long time, I do not think that, if the will were not made fast to something, the peace could be of such long duration. Sometimes it goes on for a day, or for two days, and we find ourselves—I mean those who experience this state—full of this joy without understanding the reason. They see clearly that their whole self is not in what they are doing, but that the most important faculty is absent—namely, the will, which I think is united with its God—and that the other faculties are left free to busy themselves with His service. For this they have much more capacity at such a time, though when attending to worldly affairs they are dull and sometimes stupid. It is a great favour which the Lord grants to these souls, for it unites the active life with the contemplative. At such times they serve the Lord in both these ways at once; the will, while in contemplation, is working without knowing how it does so; the other two faculties are serving Him as Martha did. Thus Martha and Mary work together. I know someone to whom the Lord often granted this favour; she could not understand it and asked a great contemplative  about it, he told her that what she described was quite possible and had happened to himself. I think, therefore, that as the soul experiences such satisfaction in this Prayer of Quiet the will must be almost continuously united with Him Who alone can give it happiness.
St Teresa of Avila, The Way of Perfection, Chapter 31