If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers;
“Without prayer, we lose sight of the meaning of our existence and the purpose of life.” So writes the desert hermit, Father Matta El-Meskeen. “We also risk losing the glory of our image,” he adds, “so that we no longer resemble God in the same way as when we pray.” The unknown author of The Cloud of Unknowing teaches similarly that, “If we neglect prayerful contemplation we will sink ever deeper into unawareness.” And Jesus also warns us, in His parable of the vine and branches, of the loss we will suffer if we do not remain attached to His love.
We all stray at times from the practice of prayer and there are many reasons why we do. But they all stem from a misplaced confidence in our own sufficiency. As Father Matta observes, “a person who does not pray is one who is content with their own condition.” Paradoxically, the withering that results from neglecting our prayerful dependence on God is what serves most to reveal the true poverty of our God-less existence. Concerning those who willfully or inadvertently stray from the vine, Father Matta writes,
Without their awareness, the ties that bind them to the earth and the flesh increase. Their ego remains the principle source of all their desires and ambitions. As for their relationship with Christ, it remains only superficial and outward. It has no real power to change or amend things.
Without the light of daily prayer we no longer grow in truth as we should, but are left unpruned and uncultured, like a wild olive branch. Since we are not turning the soil of our lives through prayer, our ground becomes fallow, and the progress of conversion stalls. As Father Matta writes,
The inward light of prayer exposes the blemishes and defects of our daily conduct. If a man does not pray, he can never be changed or renewed. And he who is not changed or renewed can have no genuine or effective relationship with Christ.
Jesus could not have made it easier for us to understand the dynamics of spiritual life. It is quite simple—if we do not remain in the vine we will wither. But the Lord also gave us hope that the opposite is equally true, “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit” (Jn. 15:5). Through prayer, the meaning of our existence and purpose in life will be renewed daily. It will restore the imago dei within us so that our lives will more truthfully reflect the grace of God. And it will keep us in fruitful relationship with the love of Christ so that we will continue to be transformed in our conversion.