We have seen how our prayer begins as simple petitions to God. In such prayers, we express our hope in God. But such prayers are one sided, where we go to God only when we feel the need for some help from him. But, if we keep at it, and keep opening ourselves to him, love develops. While this love is probably found in all kinds of prayer, even in the most rudimentary stages of prayer, early on it is an indistinguishable love, where we might not even notice it in ourselves. As we become aware of it, we begin to present to God not just our desires, but also our yearning for him. We find ourselves desiring him and his presence above everything else. God’s beauty attracts us, bringing us to declare his grandeur in our prayers. We are drawn further and further out of ourselves.
Our prayer eventually opens us up to a new way of communicating. It is the communication of one heart meeting another; while our response might begin with and be mingled with words, we find our communication with God is not limited to those words. We find communion with God going on in the stillness of our hearts. It is then when we experience the fullness of prayer. “Man achieves the fullness of prayer not when he expresses himself, but when he lets God be most fully present in prayer.“ Such experiences usually are momentary, but, as our spiritual life develops, they can be prolonged, eventually to one continuous experience, where all that we do continues to be done in the midst of that experience. Contemplative prayer can be a prayer without ceasing, where our whole life is one continuous dialogue with God. When we have become spiritually poor, when we have entirely emptied ourselves of all things which would distance ourselves from God, from all things which hide the presence of God from our spiritual vision, we find ourselves capable of being united with the loving grace of God. Even then, it is but a beginning, because one can continue to grow in that grace, to become a greater and greater instrument of it, finding greater and greater happiness and joy in the process.
It is once we have found ourselves uniting with grace in contemplative prayer that we can be said to be a true theologian. Here we come to know God, not just from the words of others, but for ourselves. “To look through God’s eyes at man and at the world means enduring both the openness of man and his contradictions, nor must we try to force them on to a Procrustean bed of dogmatism, but bring all within the sphere of the unity of God’s great plan. That man is right whose eyes behold more that is true than other men.” Here we understand the world through the perspective of God himself, and see the roles each person has in the plan of God, the creative ways they can engage those roles, and the way each person and being in creation can work together and join together in one great chorus of love before God and with God. We not only come to see the real needs of others, but we willingly offer ourselves for them as vessels of God’s grace. Our works of charity become one with our prayer. Indeed, “Our goal is to become fiery flames of prayer, living prayers, comforting those in despair and warming those in need.”
The deeper we move into the depths of God, the more we find ourselves purified of all delusions. That is, we find ourselves purified from our own limited thoughts, our own definitions, our own declarations about others, so that they can be revealed as they are, not as we think they should be. We end up letting God speak to us, and look at the world with the ways God has shown us to understand it. We will continue to express what is revealed in our own way, but what we say will be based upon a higher truth, and we will know the limitations of our declarations. Only when we have taken down the veils which we have put up to hide ourselves from others, and from God, veils we have put up to defend our fallen ego, can we achieve the openness needed to properly experience God and the world of his creation. Thus, Meister Eckart wrote:
Further, I say that if the soul is to know God, it must forget itself and lose [consciousness of] itself, for as long as it is self-aware and self-conscious, it will not see or be conscious of God. But when, for God’s sake it becomes unself-conscious, and lets go of everything, it finds itself again in God, for knowing God, it therefore knowing itself and everything else from which it has been cut asunder, in the divine perfection. If I am to know the highest good or the eternal goodness, then surely I must know it where it is good in itself and not where its goodness is separate. If I am to know true being, I must know it where it is being itself, and that is in God and not where it is divided among creatures.
As our prayer life improves, we come to know who we really are, that is, we see ourselves as God sees us. We come to see ourselves as we exist in the great and beautiful symphony of creation. “Our prayers, and other free acts, are known to us only as we come to the moment of doing them. But they are eternally in the score of the great symphony. Not ‘pre-determined’; in the syllable pre lets in the notion of eternity as simply an older time. For though we cannot experience our life as an endless present, we are eternal in God’s eyes; that is, in our deepest reality.” While we experience the grandeur of creation, we do so in a human fashion, according to our nature and capability. These abilities, however, are not static. They continue to increase as we continue to be united with God. The beatific vision in eternal life is said to be the ever-increasing experience of God through our ever-increasing ability to experience it. Everything will be continuously new for us, because everything will be continuously experienced in our ever-increasing abilities. This is why in the Apocalypse, Jesus says, “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev 21:5). He not only makes them new, but continually new. Indeed, it is not just our own progression we shall experience; we shall actually share in with the growth of others, experiencing things not just through ourselves, but through them; the beatific vision is not something which we take in for ourselves alone, but something which we share — we will rejoice not only in the glory of God for ourselves, but with and through others as well. Eternal life, therefore, will be the experience of this continuous newness, in a subjective sense, but also in an objective sense, where we will see and experience ourselves and others in such continuous positive growth. What happens in eternity is also manifested temporally in our prayer: as we grow in grace, we grow in reconciliation, not just with God, but with others, and not just with others individually, but communally, where we will come, united in love, to God. “Authentic prayer reveals a sense of togetherness, not as a comfortable feeling of self-complacency but rather as an experience of at-one-men or reconciliation with all humanity and all of God’s creation.”
 Pope John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope. trans. Jenny McPhee and Martha McPhee (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994), 18.
 Hans Urs von Balthasar, Engagement with God. trans.R. John Halliburton (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2008), 84.
 HH The Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew. Encountering the Mystery: Understanding Orthodox Christianity Today, 79.
 Meister Eckhart, “The Kingdom of God is at hand” Sermon 6 in Meister Eckhart, 131.
 Sergius Bulgakov, The Orthodox Church. trans. Lydia Kesich (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1988), 146.
 St Paul has provided the Scriptural representation of this:
“I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven — whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into Paradise — whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows — and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter” (2Corinthians 12:2-4). This passage is generally recognized as Paul talking about himself, and his own experience with Christ.
 C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers, 1964), 110.
 HH The Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew. Encountering the Mystery: Understanding Orthodox Christianity Today, 77.