So I say to you, Ask and it will be given to you. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives. The one who seeks finds. The one who knocks will have the door opened.
Luke 11: 9-10
For us who live in a culture based on consumerism, it may seem strange to suggest that Jesus’ teaching in today’s gospel is actually quite challenging for us. At first blush it would appear that we whose acquisitiveness is so strongly supported and encouraged by our culture should be quite expert in asking and seeking and knocking. But the truth of the matter is that it is particularly difficult for us to experience the direction of our deepest longing and desire, to actually know what we really want.
Perhaps a small everyday example will help us to recognize this. As I sit in a restaurant perusing the menu, I am often distracted by looking around to see what other people have ordered for dinner. It is as if I don’t want to miss out on what they are enjoying. But, of course, this comparative and competitive attitude means that I am drawn away from the much more difficult question of knowing what I really want or desire. It is my very tendency to appraise my own desires in light of what others have or are offering that keeps me from knowing my actual wants and needs.
If this is true at the level of our vital or bodily dimension, how much more true is it at the level of spirit? When Jesus calls us in this parabolic extension of his teaching on prayer to live the dispositions of one who asks, seeks, and knocks, he is inviting us to live from that place at our spiritual core that lives, as St. John of the Cross writes, “Fired with love’s urgent longings.” It is a call to come to a dispossession of our bodily and functional acquisitiveness (“My house being now all stilled.”), so that in the deep stillness we may experience and even suffer our deepest desire.
What makes it so difficult to ask for something that we really need or even just really want? It is the experience of vulnerability that it awakens in us, as well as our fear of experiencing disappointment if we are refused. In both of these senses, the stance of asking, seeking and knocking is a powerful reminder of our dependence on the other/Other. Yet, Jesus says, this is precisely the stance of true prayer, and the manifestation of what is most distinctively human in us. The relationship that is prayer requires of us that we be present from the depth of desire and longing, and the promise of Jesus is that in that place of longing we shall always know the presence and love of the One whom we seek.
Now you have to stand in desire, all your lifelong, if you are to make progress in the way of perfection. This desire must always be at work in your will, by the power of almighty God and by your own consent. One point I must emphasize: God is a jealous lover and allows no other partnership, and God has no wish to work in your will unless he is there alone with you, by himself. God asks no help, but only you yourself. God’s will is that you should simply gaze at him, and leave him to act alone. Your part is to keep the windows and the door against the inroads of flies and enemies. And if you are willing to do this, all that is required of you is to woo God humbly in prayer, and at once God will help you. Call upon God then, and let us see how you get on. God is always most willing, and is only waiting for you. So what are you going to do? How will you move God?
The Cloud of Unknowing, Chapter II