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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Prayer of the Heart

“The crisis of our prayer life is that our mind may be filled with ideas of God while our heart remains far from him. Real prayer comes from the heart,” writes Henri Nouwen, adding: “It is about this prayer of the heart that the Desert Fathers teach us” (The Way of The Heart, Ballantine Books, 1983, page 58).

Reading The Way of The Heart will help us learn how to pray with and from our hearts.

The classic definition of the prayer of the heart comes from the Russian mystic, Theophan the Recluse: “To pray is to descend with the mind into the heart, and there to stand before the face of the Lord, ever-present, all-seeing, within you” as quoted by Nouwen citing editor Timothy Ware’s The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology (London: Faber & Faber, 1966).

“The word heart in the Jewish-Christian tradition refers to the source of all physical, emotional, intellectual, volitional and moral energies . . . it is this heart that is the place of prayer. The prayer of the heart is a prayer that directs itself to God from the center of the person and thus affects the whole of our humanness.

“The prayer of the heart is a prayer that does not allow us to limit our relationship with God to interesting words or pious emotions. By its very nature such prayer transforms our whole being into Christ precisely because it opens the eyes of our soul to the truth of ourselves as well as to the truth of God. In our heart we come to see ourselves as sinners embraced by the mercy of God. It is this vision that makes us cry out, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“The prayer of the heart challenges us to hide absolutely nothing from God and to surrender ourselves unconditionally to his mercy” (The Way of The Heart, Ballantine Books, 1983, page 59-61).

When you pray, pray with your heart.


melody said...

sometimes it can be difficult to fully open ourselves up. Or, to genuinely pray with the heart. Thanks for this dad.

mertonsuki said...

what if after you descend into the heart you find yourself in a jungle full of intersting wild creatures. what do you do? Do you dare to continue?

mertonsuki said...

if we are able to descend into our hearts and find that it's full of interesting creatures both big and small how does the jesus prayer helps us bring unity and healing?
how far should we go into the jungle? Do we dare walk in to our own chaos?

Bern said...

In response to the last two comments:

First, in the words of a wise friend and spiritual director: “Proceed with caution!”

David’s Psalm 51 provides another helpful suggestion to pray whenever we are ready to reflect on our inner life:

“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me” (Psalm 51:10-12).

David also gives us another prayer of the heart in Psalm 86:11, “Teach me your way,
O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.”

When Jesus experienced temptation in the desert, His knowledge and application of Scripture provided the strength to overcome temptation and prepare for his preaching mission (see Matthew 4:1-17).

May you experience the inner peace and personal transformation that comes to anyone who responds wholeheartedly to Jesus’ invitation:
“Come, follow me” (Matthew 4:19).

When reviewing your questions, I also returned to Henri Nouwen’s The Way of The Heart and found some relevant passages that I will post in a separate blog entry for your consideration. Thanks for your comments!