Grace and peace, my brothers and sisters in Christ. May God be with us as we enter more deeply into the mysteries of prayer with Fr. Matta.
I have neither forgotten you nor our book, but have read and re-read this chapter quite a number of times. It is not so terribly long but its content is rich and my poor soul struggles (delightfully) to understand and to know what to write. May the Spirit guide me.
I will share some here – but not try to summarize what Fr. Matta has written. It is sublime and I fear I might destroy it.
I have in me a deep longing to “pray without ceasing”. It is not, I hope, a vanity of mine – an imagining that I am holy or that I merit such a gift.
Although prayer can be a labor – a labor of love – it is also a gift. I could not pray unless God had made Himself known and invited us to approach Him. I could not pray intimately with Him had He not revealed Himself in Jesus who embodies His personal love for us and in the Spirit who teaches us all things.
And what does it mean to “pray without ceasing”?
I do not believe that it means that my conscious mind would repeat words of prayer over and over, every moment of every day.
For those of us living active lives in the world, this would be impossible – for our minds must engage in other actions to earn a living, take care of a family and so on. Even for one living a monastic life, such a feat would more likely result in delusion than union with God.
An important distinction to be made here, of course, that it would not be my conscious mind that would pray at all times. A similar distinction is that the ceaseless prayer not always be words.
These distinctions may be confusing, especially to our minds so steeped in Western culture. What else have I but my conscious mind? How else can I pray but with words?
However, I suspect that any among you who have been reading along or who have this interest know that prayer is not limited by these parameters.
We do indeed make use of our conscious minds and words to pray, particularly when God is teaching us. We do not know anything else and so He makes use of what we know.
But, if we follow Him, He will lead us further into the Life, the Communion, for which He made us. We have been reading all along about this, both the work we must do and the grace He gives.
To expound upon this just a little, we are given to understand that God made us for union with Him in love. We have much work to do because our sinfulness has blinded us to both the path and the goal.
Christ has done the work of saving us – but we must do the work that enables us to receive, to accept this salvation. We cannot do that work without Him – but we are not to be passive recipients either.
Receiving His love and being transformed by it cannot be a passive process. For we are being transformed into love – and love cannot be passive.
And so, to pray without ceasing, is a synergy of His gift and our work.
Fr. Matta, both in this chapter and in preceding ones, gives us practical steps to take in approaching constant prayer. Yet he also laments that some have turned it into a technical method with unnecessary complexity that might excite spiritual greed or ambition.
God forgive us if we allow that to enter our prayer. (Of course, sometimes we do and God does forgive us.)
So, if constant prayer is not from the conscious mind, from whence does it come?
It comes, of course, from the heart. Our conscious minds do indeed begin and work at prayer and they do indeed use words at times, but our hearts are where the Communion with God becomes fully alive.
Our hearts…and what does that mean? My heart is the core of my being. Amidst this spiritual discussion, one might think that I am referring only to an abstraction – but I am not.
My heart has both a physical reality and a spiritual reality and, in this life, they ought not be separated. It is no accident, I think, that the spiritual term “heart” is the same word for that glorious pump in my physical center that keeps the life blood flowing.*
That the prayer my mind begins may enter my heart and know God there, is not a simple imagination on the parts of those who have experienced it (I slip out of first person here because I am such a beginner in prayer that I cannot claim the experience.)
Yet we are called to this deeper level of “knowing” – something beyond my conscious mind’s intellectual process of acknowledging God and the truths I have been taught.
Indeed, Fr. Matta tells us that the aim of constant prayer includes: “Perpetual existence in God’s presence…Allowing God to share with us in all our works and thoughts…Gaining a sublime knowledge of God in himself.”
When I pray with my hands on my heart, I feel each beat as prayer. As my words flow with my breath, each breath becomes prayer. His Spirit dwells in me and is prayer within me, allowing my heart Communion in the Father – Son – Spirit fullness of living, dynamic Love.
I write of the tiniest glimpse my heart has realized – a glimpse of an experience it knows to be far greater than anything it knows now. A glimpse for seconds of what is meant to be unending.
And this is why I have within me the deep longing.
Yet I fear that I am too lazy to do the work. God can and does make up for my weakness – but He does not do the work for me. For Him to do so would remove from me the ability to give Him myself as gift. It would render me unable to love.
And so I must work – I must do the work of prayer and trust that the Lord God will lead to what is best for me.
Please pray for me, as I do for you, that I may be strengthened in doing this work with all of my heart. Amen.
* clarification: I am not suggesting, of course, that anyone whose natural heart is diseased or has valves replaced for medical reasons does not have a complete heart in the eyes of God. I am simply making the point that the spiritual “heart” is not simply an abstraction unrelated to our physical selves.
(As always, comments on this post or the chapter we are reading are most welcome.)