Thinking and Praying

Words are a way of praying in which everyone begins to find their way into communion with God. Words will always be a part of our way of praying, and for some people it will continue to be their only way of prayer. This does not make it an inferior or superior way of prayer; but an authentic way of praying for many people and within which there may well be moments of meditation and contemplation.

There comes a moment for other people when this kind of prayer becomes less satisfying, and needs to be supplemented. It is a significant moment: signalling not disintegration in spiritual growth, but that the time has come to supplement one’s way of praying. One is beginning to find the need for a way of praying that is less concerned with words in prayer, and a desire to be more concerned with thoughts about God. This is not unconnected with one’s previous way of praying, because it is the words of prayer that have stimulated thoughts about God and created this need to be more reflective. There has grown the need to ponder upon ideas and thoughts born from one’s increasing knowledge of God.

The word to describe this way of praying is meditation. Literally, it means the following of a line of thought. Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh would say that in meditation one is “pursuing a piece of straight thinking under God’s guidance”. The purpose of praying in this kind of way is to assimilate and appropriate what is being suggested about God in “the piece of straight thinking”. So in meditation, initially, it is the rational or thinking power of the soul that has the upper hand; but the person meditating cannot remain on the level of thinking. What is suggested to the mind about God must be allowed to engage the feelings of the heart and lead the person praying into a real experience of the presence of God – a communion of heart and mind. The thinking initially stimulates a desire for God; but we cannot remain in the head with our thoughts allowing them to direct and govern everything in the soul. The thoughts must be allowed to descend into the heart, so that the heart feels what the mind is thinking and thereby takes the initiative in prayer. This is what is meant by putting the mind into the heart.

An illustration might help. It is often said that absence makes the heart grow fonder; so think of a husband and wife who love each other deeply, but who find themselves separated by thousands of miles at a particular moment in their lives. The husband thinks of his wife, and allows his mind to picture what she might be doing. These thoughts and imaginative pictures of her cannot remain the cold concern of mere thought. Inevitably, they must stir in his heart the feelings of the love he has for her as he reflects on their past life together and looks forward to an uninterrupted bliss when they are reunited.

Now change the subject of this man’s thoughts, replacing his wife with God. Here is an illustration of what is meant by meditation. God is the one whom we love, and of whom we think. Our thoughts turn to what He has said, and how He has revealed himself. That inevitably must lead us to reflect on what He is like and to that time when we will enjoy Him for ever, in uninterrupted communion and life. The spirit of our prayer is summed up in that Aramaic word Maranatha – “Come, Lord!” – which was a specifically eucharistic prayer in the early Church, and reminds us that the “manna” of eternity in which we live is the Lord: the Bread and the ground of our praying. These thoughts of our minds stir in our hearts the feelings of love, and motivate the ever increasing desire for union with Him in that prayer which is life.

From Prayer in the Workaday World (Gracewing, 2007) by Arthur Middleton