“Prayer is an intimate sharing between friends. It is spending time alone with the one who loves us.” – St. Teresa of Avila
An ancient Christian teaching about prayer is that if we desire to know the presence of the Living God it is best to let our minds settle down into our hearts.
If you have been drawn to the Way of Jesus you probably have a stirring within you, subtle or strong, a stirring awareness that through Jesus there is a doorway to the presence of the Living God. This doorway is through the heart.
This doorway opens through much deeper parts of ourselves than we usually pay attention too. Much deeper than these chattering minds of ours (as clever as they can be sometimes). And much deeper than most of the stories that we tell ourselves about ourselves, stories that often have to do with what other people have told us about us – good or bad, whether we had a hand in them telling that kind of story about us or whether it got laid on us, whether we’ve internalized these stories or whether we’re fighting against them. It can be complicated. But however all it came about we have an ongoing script going on inside us about ourselves and other people and the world, and this script casts us in some kind of role. Some scripts are better than others, some roles are truer than others, but often times that role is not truly true to who we all are in the heart. Many times the script is a drama that’s caught up in ego and grievance and pain.
This doorway I’m talking about when it comes to prayer, is a doorway to realms that are deeper than our usual preoccupations, deeper realms of ourselves and of other people and of the world and of God. The doorway of Christ to the presence of the Living God is through our very hearts.
Prayer is the practice of opening that door. The first step in prayer is learning to stand before that door in the first place, to settle down and set ourselves before that doorway. The ancient Christian way of describing this first step is letting the mind settle into the heart.
When we settle down to pray in this way, we soon discover that So much of the time our attention is caught up in the surfaces of things –caught up in the shiny moving lights on the screen where we project these stories we’re always telling ourselves about ourselves and other people and the world. When one movie gets irritating or scary or boring we just change the channel. We have all kinds of channels to flip through in our preoccupations: plans and predicaments, dramas and memories, worries, fears, grievances, fantasies …
Peace! Be still. Be still and know: God is God.
Soon enough the story on the screen will start up again and catch our attention. So again we can gently disenthrall ourselves. Peace. Be still.
When we allow ourselves to settle down in a time of prayer and to be still before the doorway of the heart, just naturally that door starts to open and what begins to pour out is more deeply and honestly what we have to bring before God. God, I am so angry or I am so scared or I am in so much pain or God, I have caused so much pain or God, someone I love is in pain or God, how can this world be so cruel? or Help! Help me! Help us! or My God, I must confess to you or My God, have mercy on me.
And then deeper still:
God, you have been so good to me. Thank you, thank you! or I am so in love. In love with someone, or in love with the world, or in love with You, O God. or We sing out in awe before the majesty of God
Simply put, we open our hearts to God with: Here I am, God, here I am, I am yours.
And then we abide in that open space. We abide, in stillness, trusting in the presence of the Living God.
When we pray in this way, We can be honest to God in ways that we may not be able to be honest with other people, in ways that we may not be honest with ourselves.
The little we’re able to do this the more God’s Spirit begins to act on us, in our inner lives and in our outer lives. It’s helpful, I think, to know that this is a practice. Praying in this honest way and abiding in stillness takes practice. We keep coming back to it as a matter of routine, a matter of faith. Sometimes our praying seems to go well. Sometimes it’s agonizing. Sometimes it’s boring. Sometimes it’s bliss.
But over time, if we keep coming back to the practice, the more our hearts open in prayer. And we discover there are deeper and deeper doors, to our hearts, which open out to all our hearts and out to the Great Heart of all Creation. Over time we can wake up to the presence of the Living God. And we can experience more and more how that presence can surround us and fill us and release us into a tremendous Peace and a tremendous Holy Power.
In this practice of prayer, we are not alone. We have fellow travelers. Many in our community of faith have deep prayer lives. And there are communities of kindred spirits near and far, communities and teachers through the generations. We have the guidance of the Gospels and of other Christian testimonies, ancient and modern. And above all we know that Christ is present with us when we call his name in prayer. Especially when two or more are gathered, the living Christ is here to guide us in mercy and grace. For that, I must be honest to God, I am grateful, astonished and full of gratitude.