Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Prayer of the Heart is Short, Unceasing and All-Inclusive

The Way of The Heart concludes with an emphasis on three characteristics of the prayer of the heart:

• The prayer of the heart is nurtured by short, simple prayers
• The prayer of the heart is unceasing
• The prayer of the heart is all-inclusive

Henri Nouwen explains “When we use a very simple sentence such as ‘O God, come to my assistance,’ or Jesus, master, have mercy on me,’ or a word such as ‘Lord’ or ‘Jesus’ . . . Such a simple, easily repeated prayer can slowly empty out our crowded interior life and create the quiet space where we can dwell with God. It can be like a ladder along which we can descend into the heart and ascend to God” (The Way of The Heart, Ballantine Books, 1983, page 65).

A Russian peasant was once challenged by the New Testament verse: “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Not surprisingly he wonders what this means “I began to think how it was possible to pray without ceasing, since a man has to concern himself with other things also in order to make a living.”

A wise man told the pilgrim “Ceaseless interior prayer is a continual yearning of the human spirit towards God.” In the course of his travels, the pilgrim makes the Jesus Prayer “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me” his constant companion until one day “It seemed as though my heart in its ordinary beating began to say the words of the Prayer within at each beat . . . I gave up saying the Prayer with my lips. I simply listened carefully to what my heart was saying” (quoting R.M. French, trans., The Way of the Pilgrim, New York: The Seabury Press, 1965, pages 1-3).

Can anyone, even a busy minister, pastor, teacher, journalist, parent, student, or mechanic learn to “Pray without ceasing”?

Nouwen responds that “The prayer continues to pray within me even when I am talking with others or concentrating on manual work . . . I am not suggesting that we should imitate . . . the Russian pilgrim, but I do suggest that we, too, in our busy ministry should be concerned to pray without ceasing, so that ‘Whatever we do, whether we eat or drink we do it all for the glory of God’ (1 Corinthians 10:31).

“To love and work for the glory of God cannot remain an idea about which we think once in a while. It must become an interior, unceasing doxology.

“A final characteristic of the prayer of the heart is that it includes all our concerns. When we enter with our mind into our heart and there stand in the presence of God, then all our mental preoccupations become prayer. The power of the prayer of the heart is precisely that through it all that is on our mind becomes prayer.

“We have seen how the prayer of the heart is nurtured by short prayers, is unceasing and all-inclusive. These three characteristics show how the prayer of the heart is the breath of the spiritual life and of all ministry” (The Way of The Heart, Ballantine Books, 1983, pages 68-70).

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