*Brian Wilcox. 'The Ecstasy of Light'
"Could you sum up the way of prayer?" the Sage was asked. He replied, "First, you pray prayers. Then, prayer prays itself."
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For this silent prayer, I often use the word "prayerfulness." Prayerfulness is the activity of the Heart, not of the mind or mouth.
The Eastern Orthodox churches teach three steps in the development of prayer. First, one prays with the lips. Second, one prays with the mind. Prayer is inaudible, while one wordlessly speaks or visualizes. Prayer with the mind is mental prayer. Third, the Heart prays. Prayerfulness is the Heart praying. The ecology of self, body and mind and soul, is intimate communion with Grace. One could be said to have become prayer.
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What happens to the self in prayerfulness? In prayerfulness, the sense-of-self remains. There are moments of self-forgetfulness. The self appears again. The Heart reorients the self around the Heart. The self witnesses the quiet communion, as though a bystander. Prayerfulness is not a trance.
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We can refer to the image of love-making as comparable to prayer of the Heart. In sexual intimacy, not merely sex, two lovers are conscious of togetherness. They progressively move from outside to inside ~ I do not mean intercourse, though that signifies consummation of the movement and the union of two into one. Also, the sharing fluctuates, thereby one may be more receptive and, then, become more active. The two become one with the movements of Love, when before the sharing began, they may have been in the sense of separation.
Prayerfulness is like a singer singing a song until the two are one. Is the singer singing or the song singing? Is this a song-singer?
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What about prior ways of praying? We can view progression in prayer as a sequence in which one leaves behind prior modes of prayer. One need not, however, leave other ways of prayer behind completely. Prayer can move among the three ways: audible, mental, silent. What is necessary is to be careful not to interrupt the Heart praying below thoughts and words. One learns to trust the Heart in its prayer, knowing that the mind does not perceive the deeper praying within.
Out of the Heart praying, prayer can return to the mind or lips. This movement can happen without interference with the flow of prayer-happening. One learns, through experience, how this occurs. Yet, one experiences the progress to the prayer of the Heart with engaging less and less other modalities of communion. Often now, for me, even in extended times of praying, there arises no audible or mental acts of devotion.
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When writing this work, the mind returned to my dear paternal grandmother. She was devoutly religious. She spoke once to me about her way of praying. She would lie in bed and receive in awareness for whom she was to pray. She was allowing the need to arise from the Heart, for the Heart is the locus from which Spirit speaks to us. Her praying in this manner is an example of prayer arising from the Heart.
Another happening occurred as to this prayerful spontaneity. During this writing, the face of someone appeared, with subtle energy arising within me. This energy can quickly intensify with a sense of pure Love, and this Love can linger. I have learned this is a summons from the Heart to pray for a person. I stop what I am doing and hold the person silently in awareness. I am not telling the Source what I want to be done for this person, as is done in much audible prayer. The inspiration comes with no sense of specific need as a purpose for this silent petition. So, this is another example of the Heart praying in silence.
It is best to keep this kind of petitionary prayer short and simple. A practice among many Sufis is to speak the name of the person to the Beloved, nothing more. One trusts the Beloved to know what is the content of the prayer, rather than the self giving it content. I sense that the inspiration for this prayer appears, for it is already living within the Heart.
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Again, as to the prior modes of prayer. When I began in Centering Prayer almost 25 years ago, I was taught progression in prayer. Centering prayer, I was informed, is preparation for Contemplative Prayer, the latter in which one rests in union with God. Here, one would lose the facility of imagination in prayer. That did happen. Now, imaginations quickly sink back into the Heart. Silence is the home of prayer, for the Heart lives in silence.
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As to the changing movements of feeling in prayerfulness.
The disciple murmured, "I go into the silence as you teach, and it just feels empty to me. What am I to do?" Replied the Sage, "Keep going into the emptiness."
In prayerfulness, emptiness and fullness are united into one. When diversity returns to the Heart, the diverse enters simplicity. There is an emptiness that is a void, for expressing alienation from Grace. This sense of vacancy is not the emptiness of prayerfulness. The emptiness of prayerfulness is the other side of the fullness of prayerfulness. The emptiness in prayerfulness teems with vitality.
So, we do not rely on feelings in prayerfulness. We go through aridity to wean us off reliance on feelings. As we move outer to inner, we rely less and less on bodily senses. We trust more the inward sense-of-Life. Prayerfulness includes all feelings, while prayerfulness itself is not a feeling.
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We are challenged, again and again, to surrender to Life. Time alone in prayer is one means of learning this abandonment to Grace. In time, we cease resisting and relax into the feeling-sense that appears and find that to be a means of the divine Presence. In the Heart, unlike in the body, there is no contrast between emptiness and fullness. In the Heart, one can witness and include all movements in the body and mind, inviting them, through remaining with the Heart praying. We relax into the Heart, so into Love.
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I conclude with three quotes on this prayer from the past. One would do well to ponder these wise words ~ I have rendered the words of the first and third into modern English:
You ought to go to prayer, that you may give yourself wholly up into the hands of God, with complete resignation, trusting, confident you are in the Divine Presence. Then, afterward, settling in that holy repose, with quietness, silence, and tranquillity. And endeavoring for a day, a whole year, and your whole life, to continue that first act of inward receptivity, by faith and love.
*Miguel de Molinos. The Spiritual Guide.
Even though God is glorious, he is still intimate. ... Will we ever cease being ignorant of God? When we advise people to look for God in their own hearts, they are as mystified as if we had told them to look in some unexplored territory in a distant land.
*Francois de Fenelon. Meditation and Devotions.
This effective Work of the Spirit … cannot be known without centering into the same Spirit.
*Elizabeth Bathurst (1679). In David Johnson. A Quaker Prayer Life.
Ⓒ Brian Wilcox, 2020