This is the 15th blog in a series exploring various aspects of “prayer.” The first blog is “Why Pray?” and the previous blog is Praying (II).
Both the Old and New Testament (see for example Deuteronomy 6:5 and Luke 10:27), teach that we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and strength. This basically means we are to love our God with all of our being (spirit, soul and body).
“I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.” (Psalm 104:33)
This is the same kind of thinking that says we are meant to pray not just on occasion but with our entire lives, with all we think, say and do.
“… the heart is the man himself. Thus he who does not pray or does not serve God with his heart, does not pray at all, because in that case his body only prays, and the body without the mind is nothing more than earth. Remember, that when standing in prayer, you stand before God Himself, who has the wisdom of all. Therefore, your prayer ought to be, so to say, all spirit, all understanding.” (St. John of Kronstadt, MY LIFE IN CHRIST, p 4)
Prayer is not the mere recitation of texts, not even if we are reciting the Psalms from memory. We as humans are quite capable of multi-tasking, and can recite texts from memory even if our heart or mind is far removed from what we are reciting. Prayer is that coming together of all of the aspects of what it means to be human, including having a relationship with our Creator. Thus we are to pray as long as we live, and we are to pray every moment of our lives. Prayer is communion with God. But, this doesn’t mean that if we become prayer we eschew the necessities of life or renounce the world completely. Rather prayer has to do with the transfiguration of our lives so that we begin here and now to participate in the new creation of God: we participate in salvation when we pray.
Prayer, as we’ve said before, informs, forms, reforms and transforms our lives. Prayer always involves the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
“They asked Abba Macarius, ‘How should one pray?’ The old man replied, ‘There is no need to lose oneself in words. It is enough to spread out the hand and to say, ‘Lord, as thou wilt and as thou knowest best, have mercy.’ If the battle is fierce, say, ‘Help!’ He knows what is suitable for you and he will take pity on you.(Sayings of the Desert Fathers….)” (Olivier Clement, THE ROOTS OF CHRISTIAN MYSTICISM, p 203)
I love the above quote, specifically the line, “if the battle is fierce, say, ‘Help!’” That one word, “Help!” is enough verbiage. If we find ourselves not knowing how to pray or what to say, cry out “Help!” God does hear that prayer. We don’t need long and eloquent prayers written by saints. God accepts the plea of our hearts, however simple.
“The brethren said, ‘What is pure prayer?’ The old man said, ‘that which is of few words and is abundant in deeds. For if their actions be not more than their petition, their prayers are mere words wherein the seed of their hands is not…” (E. Wallis Budge, THE PARADISE OF THE HOLY FATHERS vol 2, p 331)
Prayer is not mere words, no matter how holy those words may be, for prayer consists also of how we live and what we do daily. Prayer is that holistic bringing together of our heart, mind and body – our thoughts, words and actions. We work to establish those things for which we also are praying.
“At the times when you remember God, increase your prayers, so that when you forget Him, the Lord may remind you.” (St. Mark the Ascetic, THE PHILOKALIA Vol 1, p 112)
When we pray, we stand in God’s presence and we are aware of His presence. This is remembering God, for the biblical sense of remembering is that we participate in what we remember. (In the Liturgy for example we remember what Jesus did on the night in which he was betrayed, taking the bread in His hands and blessing and breaking it, and now we participate in that same event as we receive Holy Communion.) As we remember God, as we become more aware of the presence of Christ and the Holy Spirit, we participate in salvation, we participate in the divine life and become as St. Peter says partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).
Next: Praying (IV)