In Romans 8 Paul addresses the issue of prayer:
The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness;
for we do not know how to pray as we ought,
but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.
And the one who searches hearts
knows what is the intention of the Spirit,
because he intercedes for the holy ones
according to God’s will.
What is prayer? Is prayer incessant babbling? Is prayer our human effort to conform God’s will to our way, our wants and needs?
Prayer is none of the above. Jesus told us not to babble like the pagans. In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus taught us that prayer is about doing God’s will and not our will.
In fact, Jesus told us to go into our rooms and to pray to our Heavenly Parent in secret. There is a silent inexpressible dimension to prayer. In centering prayer, we enter into God’s language—silence. Silence is the ground of our relationship to God.
At its best prayer is about relationship—our relationship to the Living One who is like the best parent we could ever hope for. If the parent metaphor is too strong for those who have suffered parental abuse, we can always revert to the Native American tradition of God as Grandparent.
The Spirit within our spirit—we are created in the very image of the loving Trinity—expresses our inexpressible groanings. We really do not have to do anything except to go into our inner room and sit in silence as the Living One gazes lovingly upon us.
Trappist Thomas Keating defines the inner room:
Pray to your Father in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will bring your whole human nature 3to full flourishing and blooming. This we call, following Matthew 6:6, “the inner room,” that is, the spiritual level of our being, which we deliberately move to in the method or practice of Centering Prayer, by letting go temporarily of all our external concerns, and then all our interior dialog, or the concerns or the conversation we have with ourselves and reaction to what’s happening within and around us. (http://www.contemplativeoutreach.org/site/PageServer?pagename=retreats_programs_heartfulness_archives) This link takes you to the archives of an entire series of brief talks by Keating, including one on the inner room.
The Living One who dwells within and without “searches” our hearts. Prayer is God’s action within us. Contemplative Outreach has produced a booklet on The Prayer of Consent—our acceptance and surrender to the presence of God within us. (https://secure3.convio.net/co/site/Ecommerce?VIEW_PRODUCT=true&product_id=3302&store_id=1201) Prayer does not put us in God’s presence as much as it makes us aware of God’s presence already within us. Keating reflects:
The language of the mystics speaks of waking up and of staying awake. Prayer in secret is not a state of suspended animation. It is rather the habit of disregarding particular perceptions and surrendering to the divine presence just as it presents itself. In this perspective, the absence of God is also God. (http://www.contemplativeoutreach.org/site/DocServer/2011JuneNewsletter.pdf?docID=2521)
John Cassian teaches, “We pray with our door shut when, without opening our mouths, and in perfect silence, we offer our petitions [groanings?] to the one who pays not attention to words, but looks hard at our hearts”. God searches our hearts and knows who we are and what we need as we grow in loving union.
Prayer surrenders to the power of love—the power of Trinitarian relationships within us. David Benner, a spiritual writer, says it best. Our life should be one of surrender to God. In Desiring God’s Will, he asks whether we are going to live on the kingdom of self (Merton’s false self) or in the kingdom of God. He says:
As I have noted the kingdom of God is the kingdom of love. It is love that transforms willfulness into willingness. It is love that softens will and brings it back to the service of life. Love tempers all things, transforms all things. Without love, life is a cacophony of booming gongs and clashing cymbals (1 Corinthians 13:1). Without love, we become as brittle as dead grass. Without love, personality becomes turned in upon itself and is enslaved. (48)
Enmeshed in the silence of love in the secret confines of our inner room, we become what we are meant to be—sons and daughters of the Living One. We live in loving relationship to ourselves, one another, the cosmos and the Living God who dwells deep within us as LOVE.