Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Prayer of the Heart

I mentioned at the end of my "Religion" post that I would write more about a new type of prayer that I had been learning about...and so here I go.  This prayer has it's roots in Catholicism, (the 'desert monks' and such)...but it's very similar to 'meditation', which is found in all the Eastern religions. (and most likely why most Christians want nothing to do with it)  I'm trying to remember when I first heard about it, but that escapes me.  I do know I was very curious to learn about Teresa of Avila, because her name kept coming up in things I was reading. 

Teresa is a big deal in the Catholic church, (saints always are...and it isn't easy to be 'sainted'...you should look up the process; it's fascinating) and she had written some books on this kind of prayer. (she said she learned it during a prolonged and painful illness)  I tried to read two of her books, but was utterly lost. (16th century writing that was in Spanish and translated to English tends to be a little hard to follow...that's my excuse anyway)  So I found a book that was considered more "Prayer 101" that I could hopefully get more out of.   (Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening, in case anyone's interested. http://www.amazon.com/Centering-Prayer-Awakening-Bourgeault-Cynthia/dp/1561012629

At the heart of this shift in my reading material was the major shift in my thinking and approach to my spiritual walk. I think the easiest way to describe this shift is:  instead of the foundation of my spirituality being on the authority of church leaders (my church of course--because there are a bazillion churches and none of them agree) and obedience and effort in trying to live a life that pleased God--- my focus instead turned to letting go of 'trying to be good', and instead opening up my heart fully to receive love and grace.  That wasn't really an easy way to describe it, huh?  Ok, maybe this is better: instead of trying to learn to swim, I was trying to learn to float; and trust the river to take me where it wanted. (I stole that analogy from another very good book, Surrender to Love  by David Benner) And this kind of prayer is a reflection of this shift, because this prayer would probably better be described as 'not praying'. 

Typically prayer is giving our requests to God--and there is nothing wrong with that.  But centering prayer is about learning to be quiet...to trust and surrender and open to God.  It seems that just sitting and doing nothing should be easy...in a non-spiritual way I'm quite good at that.   But spiritually, it's extremely difficult. (because of the ego...you can look at previous posts to read more of what I'm referring to)  I'll end with some quotes from the book that will hopefully sort of sum all this up.(with much editing by me, as usual)  

"The gospel requires a radical openness and compassion that are beyond the capacity of the anxious, fear-ridden ego.  Developing attention of the heart is all-important, because without it, it is impossible to acquire sufficient inner strength to fulfill the beatitudes.

Attention of the heart is achieved not so much by concentration of either the emotions or the mind as by the simple release of all that one is clinging to, the good things as well as the bad things...relinquishing the passions and relaxing the will. It is not 'thinking about' anything, but a direct seeking of the Face of the Invisible, which cannot be found unless we become lost in Him who is invisible.
Every time you are willing to release a thought, to perform the gesture of self-emptying, this gesture is patterned and strengthened within you.  In time it begins to take shape as a deep pull or gravitation that is clearly perceptible, like a tug to center.  This is increasingly recognized as an inner mutual yearning; yours for God and God's for you.
It is indeed your interior compass, the needle of your heart pointing to the magnetic north of God.  When this inner alignment is strong and steady, you find that you are able to follow the course of your own authentic unfolding with a kind of effortless grace."

And so...I hope I'm learning to 'work out my salvation' (my transformation into the image of Christ, not my free ticket to heaven when I die--just to clarify what I believe salvation to be) by means of receiving and living in grace, and learning to hear and respond to the spirit of God that is within me.