Let’s sit down and listen to our heart. Western culture tends to reward quick-thinking, fast, type-A people — but the constant distractions in our environment can make it hard to hear that one small voice we associate with God. Hearing that voice requires setting aside some time to focus, which helps us build our relationship with the Spirit, quiet our minds, shed our judgments and fears, and open ourselves to love just the way we are.
We are constantly being invited by God to look at our lives as they are, not as we would like them to be. Therefore, whatever is real to us is what we bring to contemplation and awareness before God — it doesn’t need to be about something epic or of the greatest concern, it just needs to be what’s real to us right now.
In this exercise, we discover the prayer in us that longs to be expressed. The “prayer of the heart” consists of two simple phrases, one spoken on inhalation and one spoken on exhalation. Early Christians used to pray “Come, Lord Jesus,” in this fashion. We’ll spend time in this exercise finding those prayers that are as close to us as our very breath.
The Exercise: Prayer of the Heart
Intention: To allow our name for God and our desire to evolve into a special prayer.
- Begin seated in a comfortable position. Make sure your body weight is distributed in such a way that you feel stable. Take about five deep, slow breaths and allow the tension of the day to flow out with each exhalation. After five deliberate breaths, turn your attention away from counting and just allow your breath to find its natural pace.
- What is your deepest and truest desire in life right this moment? If you find your desires feel “tacky” or too worldly, try suspending judgment and instead looking at what’s at the base of that desire. When you check in with your deepest and truest self, what it is that you want from God?
- When you identify your deepest desire, give it a short phrase. For example, if your deep desire is inner freedom, then your phrase would be “freedom” or “inner freedom.” Make sure your desire phrase is not too long.
- What is your favorite name for God? How do you image the Creator? Choose whatever name seems to fit best for you. Some examples include: Jesus, Wisdom, Father, Mother, or Mystery. Be as creative as you want to be. But again, keep the name rather short.
- Combine your name for God with your desire. For example, if my phrase is “freedom” and the name I choose for God is Christ, my prayer of the heart might be “Freedom, in Christ.” Spend a few moments coming up with your two-part prayer.
- Begin to say — either aloud or silently — your phrase. You may inhale on the name for God and exhale on the desire or vice versa. Spend several minutes breathing this prayer. Make it your own. Allow God to inhabit this prayer.
- After several minutes of repeating this prayer, sink into contemplative silence. Allow the love of God to fill you and surround you.
- If you want to be sure to remember this phrase to pray it throughout the day, write it down. You might want to place it on the back of a business card and put it in your wallet or pocket. Place it on a “post-it” next to your computer, or on the door of your refrigerator.
The moment we start to notice our breath, we invariably begin to control it. The goal in any breathing meditation is to inhale and exhale naturally, without trying to control our body’s natural pace. The point of taking five deliberate breaths is to consciously slow down. Once you move on to the phrases, let your body set the pace for the breath.
Looking for More?
If you like Prayer of the Heart and are looking for even more ways to pray, you might enjoy my book, “50 Ways to Pray,” from Abingdon Press. You’ll find this prayer and 49 others to experiment with.
Want to try spiritual direction? I have openings in my schedule for new directees — regardless of where you live. I can work by phone, Skype or if you live in the Phoenix metro area we can meet in person. Contact me at email@example.com or visit www.teresablythe.net.
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