This is the 41st blog in a series exploring various aspects of “prayer.” The first blog is “Why Pray?” and the previous blog is Prayer as Prayer as Relationship with God (V).
“Prayer is turning the mind and thoughts towards God. To pray means to stand before God with the mind, mentally to gaze unswervingly at Him, and to converse with Him in reverent fear and hope.” (St. Dimitri of Rostov – d. 1709AD, THE ART OF PRAYER, p 50)
All along we have read in this blog series that praying is not purely a matter of exactly following some technique. Prayer rather is relationship to the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity. As such, prayer has many wonderful spiritual effects on the person praying.
“Prayer that rises up in someone’s heart serves to open up for us the door of heaven: that person stands in converse with the Divinity and gives pleasure to the Son of God.” (St. Ephrem the Syrian – d. 379AD, THE SYRIAC FATHERS ON PRAYER AND THE SPIRITUAL LIFE, p. 36)
We can converse with God for prayer establishes a relationship between us and the Persons of the Holy Trinity. For our part, we need to learn to listen to God speaking to us: listen to His words, His voice, his speech, His language, but also to listen to and for God’s silence and that voice which speaks through creation itself. In listening, we also learn to speak His language, which for us means learning to stand in His presence and to act in accordance with His will. This is how we learn to converse with God: watchfulness, vigilance, attentiveness, and awareness. All of creation is speaking to God without the use of words. We can learn to listen for that as well.
“Yet for there to be prayer in the Christian sense of the word a specifically personal relationship has to be established with the living God, a ‘conversation’ as Evagrius puts it. The word should be taken in a broad sense. It may be silent listening, a cry of distress, a celebration; it may also be Job’s plaintive challenge. The disposition we need to cultivate, even when care weighs heaviest, is that of remembering that God exists and loves us; that we are not alone, lost, ridiculous in the presence of nothingness or horror; that there is another who we may approach in union with Christ, in him, in the depths of our being. . . . Prayer does not seek to draw God towards us since, as St. Augustine says, he is closer to us than we are to ourselves. Its purpose is to bring us close enough to him for dialogue, and to make us aware of his nearness.
‘It may be true that the divine principle is present in every being, but not every being is present in him. We ourselves will come to dwell with him if we call on him with very holy prayers and a tranquil mind. For his indwelling is not local, as if he could change position . . . If we were on a ship, and to rescue us ropes attached to a rock were thrown to us, obviously we should not draw the rock any nearer to ourselves, but we would pull ourselves and our ship nearer to the rock . . . And that is why . . . in prayer we need to begin, not by drawing to ourselves that Power that is everywhere and nowhere, but by putting ourselves in his hands and uniting ourselves to him. (Dionysius the Areopagite – ca 5th Century …)’” (Olivier Clement, THE ROOTS OF CHRISTIAN MYSTICISM, pp 181-182)
Ultimately we who desire God’s presence must remove from ourselves all that prevents us from being in His presence or which blocks us from being aware of His presence. We have to rid ourselves of selfishness and self-centeredness, of sin and all that prevents us from loving Him and our neighbor. As a friend told me, medical science removes all that prevents healing from taking place – that is what allows God to heal. So too confession of sins and repentance removes from us all that prevents us from being in God’s presence, from enjoying communion with Him. The Christian life takes away all that prevents us from listening to God and attending to His will. True prayer occurs when all of the self-centered and sinful obstacles to relating to God have been emptied from our hearts and minds, so that we allow God to enter into our lives.
“So he who loves God cultivates pure prayer, driving out every passion that keeps him from it.” (St. Maximos the Confessor – d. 662AD, The Philokalia, Kindle Loc. 12397-98)
Next: Prayer That Never Ends