“And [angel of the Lord] said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.” 1 Kings 19:11-12
As Christians we believe that God is Trinity of Persons united in a communion of love. Thus, we when profess that “God is love” we are not deifying love, but recognizing that God is a communion of love, three Persons in a non-competitive communion of self-giving that binds them so closely together that they are one God. We need to be careful when applying extra-Biblical images to God, but it is almost as if the life of the Triune God is a type of embrace.
My own experience is that the most meaningful embraces usually do not involve words. Or, at the very least, what is really communicated in the most meaningful embraces is non-verbal. I recall my one bit of thespian experience, which might be helpful to enlighten this point, if it is not thought too scandalous.
I played Mr. Anthony Kirby, Sr. in a production of You Can’t Take it with You. I was offered the role without an audition because I was told I would not have to act but just be myself. The character was an uptight, workaholic stock broker…
At one point in the play, the main characters played a word association game. A word was said and then each person wrote down the first thing that came to mind. One of the words used in the game was “sex”. When it came time the character who played my wife in play to share the first word that came to her mind, she said, “Wall Street.” My character talked about the market while he made love to his wife.
The best of the Christian tradition as regards prayer speaks of what happens in authentic prayer in terms of nuptial imagery. The one praying is transported into the inner life of the Trinity and is brought into the Divine embrace. These insights are entirely consistent with what the New Testament has to say about prayer.
We rightly think it is bizarre for a husband to talk about work in the midst of the marital embrace. All too often we approach of private prayer in a way that is equally strange. For many of us, private prayer is talking to God about things rather than a conscious effort to be communion with Him. We think and talk too much rather than focusing on stillness, inner quiet and presence to the Divine Other.
And this is probably the biggest reason why we neither pray as well or as often as we should.
How do we engage in the prayer of the heart that I describe?
It is really simple. We sit still in a quiet place on a chair, breathing deeply and repeating slowly a prayer word like “Come Holy Spirit” for fifteen or twenty minutes. We try not to think, but we recognize that thoughts will invariably come. When this happens, we try not to focus on them, but simply rest in God’s love. And by doing so we allow this love to transform and heal us.