Meditations for Layfolks - Prayer the Upraising of the Heart

The first act of prayer is knowledge, the second is love; for I must always remember that the ultimate purpose of prayer, as of all spiritual life, is to get into union with God. For that end was I created, and to that end I must turn all and every supernatural enlightenment. Love is always the end of acquaintanceship with that which is perfect. I know my friends with a deep and true knowledge, and the knowledge does not remain as though separated off in some separate compartment, having no influence upon life. I know their kindness, generosity, loyalty; and this makes my love itself without any deliberate act on my part increase also very considerably. Just as, again, the more I see the beauty of a thing or a person, the more I am attracted by it. The word "attracted" is very appropriate, for it shows what has happened: the thing or person, in consequence of the increasing evidence of its beauty, actually draws me to it: it does not come into me, but leads me to it. Thus theologians who describe the Beatific Vision of eternal bliss tell us that the real act of possession is an act of intellect; but that once we have with our minds seen God, we cannot help loving Him. Really, no doubt, the reason is that the division of mind from heart is purely artificial; they are both mere functions of the same indivisible soul, which, when once it knows what is loveable, loves it by the same energy. The very appearance of beauty produces its own effect In prayer, then, we begin by contemplating some fixed mystery or truth, and our heart then burns within us.

In other words, prayer is not an abstract science or art, but a handicraft of life. It is no use for me to set out in order, however elaborately, article after article of belief: the Mediaevals said: "God taketh not delight in logic" that is, there is no prayer, no union with God, in merely tabulating our knowledge of Him and describing it accurately, and remembering it in great detail. All that would be possible without prayer; prayer means that the heart, too, has been touched. The Psalmist sang: "From my heart broke the good word"; and, again, "a flame burst forth." It is not prayer, therefore, when I merely weave theological patterns out of the truths of faith; but it is prayer when, contemplating God as revealed to me, I find Him to be so loveable that my heart longs for His company and for the return of His sympathy. Nor should this be difficult. Any scene in the life of my Divine Master, as recorded in the Gospels, must, as I study it, make more and more evident to me His mercy, His gentleness with sinners who are conscious of their sin, His meekness and humbleness of heart; and as these become more and more evident, surely my love will follow. So also the mere contemplation of any article of the Creed must certainly light up the depths of the mysteries of God at least sufficiently to let us see how really beautiful they must be. The mind explores all these wonderful things only to draw the heart more deeply after it. The mind lights up the loveliness within, and the heart is aflame with the vision disclosed. No one can gaze for long at something which is genuinely beautiful without being caught up in the rapture which the spell of its loveliness must cast.

While, then, I recognize that faith in prayer is intended to lead me on to love, this does not mean that I must wait for a great flame to burst forth. This is, indeed, a matter about which I must be most careful, for I may discourage myself or be led astray by delaying for too long or rushing too impetuously along. By "love," "rapture," "ablaze," nothing more is meant than an inclination to follow God's commandments and live as faith prescribes. It has nothing to do with feelings, emotions. It does not mean that I do not pray if I do not feel love for God in the same way as I feel love for my friends, or that I must go on working out the particular mystery or article of belief until my whole being is stirred and raised to a white-heat of devotion. I am only a beggar, and cannot be a chooser; I must be content with the crumbs that fall from the table of God. No physical delight or appreciation of God's near ness to me is needed, nor is it in any way a sign that my prayer is fruitful; for this may depend rather upon digestion than upon the love of God: in fact, the very absence of it may make prayer, bravely persisted in, all the more pleasing in the sight of the Most High. Here, then, the upraising of heart that should follow upon the heels of faith may be unfelt, even unconscious. It is shown rather in the day's work than in the moment's emotions. "If you love Me, keep My commandments. . . . Not he that saith to Me, Lord, Lord! but he that doth the will of My Father, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven." These are the proofs of our genuineness in prayer. Anyway, I must be satisfied with what is given me, nor should I seek to say much. The prayer in the Garden was but the repetition be tween long silences of one single petition. By faith, then, is His beauty unveiled; and the vision of this beauty sets my heart on fire with love.

- text taken from Meditations for Layfolk by Father Bede Jarrett, O.P.