Praying With Karl Rahner: An Unexpected Grace

Wednesday 29 June 2010

On this Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, I found myself curiously reading a lot of Karl Rahner. It was initially some more “heady stuff” along the lines of his theology of grace, something that I wanted to return to as I was working through some other reflections of late. What had started out being a return to his theological insights on the presence of God in creation as Spirit led me to read some of his more spiritual and prayerful writings. Coming across his book Prayers for a Lifetime, I was struck by the prayerful reflections this theological giant left behind.

In the introduction to the text, Karl Lehmann, then bishop of Mainz and former student of Rahner’s, recalled a conversation someone had with Rahner about prayer.

To the question, “Do you pray?” Rahner once replied: “I hope that I pray. You see, whenever I actually notice, in all the big and little moments of my life, how close I am to that unutterable, holy, and loving mystery that we call God, and whenever I place myself there, dealing with this mystery, as it were, in confidence, hope, and love, whenever I accept this mystery, then I pray – and I hope that I do.”

The collection of his prayers I find very inspiring. Rahner’s theological genius is hardly disputed, even by those who do not care for his rather optimistic conclusions, yet his spiritual wisdom, the clarity with which he seemed to understand the ordinariness of humanity’s relationship with its Creator, is far too often overlooked.

These prayers, some rather lengthy reflections on a particular theme or season, have allowed me to return to one of the great theologians whom I’ve studied rather thoroughly since my undergraduate days. I never cease to be challenged, impressed and inspired by his work. Among his prayers are found an attempt to praise creation, consciously modeled after Francis’s Canticle of the Creatures and a prayer to the God of his vocation – two reflections of timely quality, both of which will likely provide some material upon which to reflect here in the future.

For now I wish only to provide the opening section of his book titled, “Opening.” It is enough for now, reflect on it – you will not be disappointed.

It is both terrible and comforting to dwell in the inconceivable nearness to God, and so to be loved by God Himself that the first and last gift is infinity and inconceivability itself. But we have no choice. God is with us.

On this feast of the two most revered Apostles, may we too find the terror and comfort that Peter and Paul knew in recognizing their proximity to Christ. May we never forget that God is indeed with us.

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2 Responses to “Praying With Karl Rahner: An Unexpected Grace”

  1. I love Rahner — and often tell people that his collections of prayers and homilies are the best on-ramp to his thought: he’s so much easier once you have a framework to put things in, and I really do think that his more directly spiritual writings do a good job of providing that framework. Do you have his collection of prayers Encounters with Silence?

  2. I definitely agree, Bridget! The first time I tried to read Rahner, I started with his _Foundations of Christian Faith_ and made it about twenty pages. A year later, I picked up a book of his prayers, _Encounters With Silence_, and read it straight through. I’ve also read his _The Need and Blessing of Prayer_ and _Watch and Pray With Me_. I love them all, and perhaps now’s the time for me to actually look at some of the formal theology he’s written.

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