Knocking on Heaven’s Door: A Reflection on Prayer from Cora Evans
Cora Evans’ most well-known work is Refugee From Heaven, an account of her mystical visions on the life of Jesus. Also from her library is a collection of her letters: the Letter Lessons. In this correspondence from Cora Evans, she takes points of spiritual guidance and matters of faith and translates them into practical action. Therefore, her advice and reflections apply to the lukewarm, the fervent, and the mystic alike. Here are two points from Letter Lesson #2 that stood out to me.
What Do We Offer God in Prayer?
It’s a common refrain in many Christian circles to count Jesus as a friend (among other things). If we talked to a friend like we often talk to God, would that friend still like us? It’s easy for me to slip into a “hey Jesus, I need…” pattern of prayer. Jesus certainly wants us to come to Him with our needs, but a relationship has to be more than just “I need.”
To make that principle a little more practical, Cora compares our prayer to different kinds of knocks.
“The master invited us all to knock, but there are many differences in the ways of knocking. Some knocks are ‘snappy’—symbolizing rudeness, lack of poise, and shallow-minded reasoning. Another knock could be boldly loud. This kind of knock is ill-mannered in its ‘demand’ and ‘command.’ Are we praying in these symbolical knocks? The quiet knock speaks of meekness and care for the feelings of others—are we caring for the feelings of God? Our own spirit is often shown in our knock.”
We have likely all experienced that snappy sort of knock on the door, and likely also the bold, loud knock. God does not get irritated like we would at such approaches. Yet if this the only manner in which we communicate with Him, how does that express love on our part? Does the manner of our prayer demand that God show love for us, but includes little effort on my end to show Him love?
This is an area of needed growth for me, and I’d hazard to guess that a lot of Catholics fall into the same boat. Cora closes the second letter lesson with gentle advice. Be grateful to God in little things, and larger gratitudes will follow. And in prayer, “let us also pray in the right spirit without demand or command. Quietly, let us rejoice and be thankful for what we have and make the most out of trials, mistakes, and misunderstandings.”
Our Thoughts Matter
In this letter, one of Cora’s main points is to call the attention to our thoughts. Using a mental picture, “suppose each good thought represented itself as a beautiful angel and each bad or unkind thought as an ugly old man.” The ugly old man “hangs his cards on the tabernacle walls... Vices, Revenge, Hatreds, Pride, and False Pains Leading to False Desires for Sympathy.” Cora recommends taking stock of our thoughts and using an image like that helps make the abstract more quantifiable. Would the beautiful angel or ugly old man be in our mind more often?
This shouldn’t come as a surprise to those that have read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Jesus takes several tenets of the Jewish law and makes them more strict.
“You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment... You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Matthew 5:21-22, 43-44
Jesus is taking aim at our minds and hearts. Logically, can we not all assent to it? Yet in the heat of the moment with a rude person we encounter, a driver of obvious lesser ability than our own, or a disobedient child, vices can quickly get belligerent and go into overdrive.
As an aid to helping the beautiful angel win, Cora suggests rewards and penances. For every hour that we successfully fight off a fault, she recommends a pleasure like ice cream (some things do transcend time) or a form of entertainment. On the flip side, Cora suggests chores for ugly thoughts. Overall, Cora challenges us to adhere more closely to the demands of Christ. By the system of rewards and penances, we’re constantly striving whether in success or building back after falling down.
Cora Evans’ Letter Lessons are full of larger spiritual principles fleshed out with everyday advice. Prayer and holiness are tasks for every single person—not just the mystics. Servant of God Cora Evans, pray for us!