Theophan the Recluse defines prayer as “standing before God with the mind in the heart.” What do these words mean? Fr. Kallistos Ware explains,
“So long as the ascetic prays with the mind in the head, he will still be working solely with the resources of the human intellect, and on this level he will never attain to an immediate and personal encounter with God. By the use of his brain, he will at best know about God, but he will not know God. For there can be no direct knowledge of God without an exceedingly great love, and such love must come, not from the brain alone, but from the whole man—that is, from the heart. It is necessary, then, for the ascetic to descend from the head into the heart. He is not required to abandon his intellectual powers – the reason, too, is a gift of God – but he is called to descend with the mind into his heart.”
A HEAD AND HEART FAITH
The head seeks God but it is the heart that finds Him. “For man believes in his heart and so is justified …” writes St. Paul (Romans 10:10). When the head descends into the heart, the “head” faith becomes a “heart” faith. It becomes not just a “head” faith or just a “heart” faith but a “head-in-the-heart” faith. Just as love, charity and the other important virtues cannot exist only in the mind but are primarily of the heart, so it is with our faith and trust in God. We are not to let Jesus remain in the mind and give Him only a cold intellectual allegiance. He must descend into the heart where we shall be able to feel His presence and yield our will to Him.
To return again to Theophan the Recluse:
“You must pray not only with words but with the mind, and not only with the mind but with the heart, so that the mind understands and sees clearly what is said in words, and the heart feels what the mind is thinking. All these combined together constitute real prayer, and if any of them are absent, your prayer is either not perfect, or it is not prayer at all.”
St. John Chrysostom says that God hears our prayers more loudly when we are praying with the mind in the heart.
A UNION OF MIND AND HEART
The over-intellectual scholars in Constantinople criticized St. Gregory Palamas and his way of prayer. Faith to them was only a matter of the mind not of the heart. For Gregory Palamas it was both. And the Church supported his view.
“You must descend with your mind into your heart,” Theophan insists. “At present your thoughts of God are in your head. And God himself is, as it were, outside you, and so your prayer and other spiritual exercises remain exterior. Whilst you are still in your head, thoughts will . . . always be whirling about like snow in winter, or clouds of mosquitoes in the summer. . . All our inner disorder is due to the dislocation of our powers, the mind and the heart each going its own way. The mind must come to an initial concord with the heart, growing eventually into a union of the mind with the heart.”
WE THINK WE PRAY
Father John of Kronstadt talks about people who “call prayer that which is not prayer at ali: for instance, a man goes to church, stands there for a time, looks at the icons or at other people, and says that he has prayed to God; or else he stands before an icon at home, bows his head, says some words he has learned by heart, without understanding, and without feeling, and says that he has prayed – although with his thoughts and his heart he has not prayed at all, but was elsewhere, with other people and other things, and not with God.”
He goes on to say, “Thus he who does not pray with his heart does not pray at all, because only his body prays, and the body without the mind is nothing more than dust.”
“Descend from the head into the heart. Then you will see all thoughts clearly, as they move before the eye of your sharp-sighted mind. But until you descend into the heart, do not expect to have due discrimination of thoughts. . .
« . . the union of the mind with the heart is the union of the spiritual thoughts of the mind with the spiritual feelings of the heart. . .
“Do not be lazy about descending. In the heart is life, and you must live there. Do not think that this is something to be attempted only by the perfect. No. It is for everyone who has begun to seek the Lord.”
THE JOURNEY WITHIN
By descending with the mind into the heart through prayer the Church is calling on us to make what Dag Hammarskjold called “the longest journey, the journey inward” to the center of our being which is nothing other than the Presence of God within.
The secret of sanctity and of happiness is open to all. If for five minutes a day we can quiet our imagination, close our eyes to the things of our senses, enter within our soul which is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and there commune with our Lord, life will flow happily, serene and consoled even in the midst of pain.
When you are on an ocean-going vessel you are not meant to remain indefinitely in any harbor, no matter how attractive it might be. You are to sail the seas of life. Your visits to any harbor should have only one purpose – to make you a more seaworthy vessel. The purpose of prayer is just that: not to keep us anchored in safe harbors but to enable us to sail the seas of life no matter what the weather.
Dive into prayer often. Let the words not remain only on your lips. Let them go from your lips to your mind to your heart. Let your heart be without words but never your words without heart. As you so pray, the strengthening presence of Jesus will be with you. The healing love of Jesus will be poured upon you. The resurrecting power of Jesus will flow through you to touch, bless and heal your mind, soul and body.
“Executives are hard to see
Their costly time I may not waste;
I make appointments nervously
And talk to them in haste.
But any time of night or day,
In places suitable or odd,
I seek and get without delay
An interview with God”.
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“Come now, little man!
Flee for a while from your tasks, hide yourself
for a little space from the turmoil of
your thoughts. Come, cast aside your
burdensome cares, and put aside
your laborious pursuits. For a little
while give your time to God, and
rest in Him for a little while. Enter
into the inner chamber of your mind,
shut out all things save God and
whatever may aid you in seeking
God; and having barred the door of
your chamber, seek Him.”
— Anselm of Canterbury