The next few posts will be a short series about deepening our prayer lives. I guess that is something we would all like to do - at whatever point in our journey we are. And there is something about it that seems to be, relatively consistently, difficult - you have only to read the writings of the early Fathers of the Church to see that. This prayer of Anselm shows that.
So where shall we start? Well, a useful place to begin would be in a place of stillness. Stillness! Now that's something that is in rare supply in our busy world. So how do we go about finding some of it?
Firstly, we have to want it. If we don't, then we won't be motivated to seek it out. I rather like this quote of D H Lawrence:
One's action ought to come out of an achieved stillness: not to be mere rushing on.We could change that to be:
One's prayer ought to come out of an achieved stillness: not to be mere prattling on!
Now an achieved stillness implies some effort - and to make an effort, you have to be motivated. So perhaps it would be helpful to look into our hearts and ask ourselves - honestly - 'Is deepening my prayer life really a priority to me? Am I prepared to put some effort into drawing closer to God?' If the answer to these questions is 'Yes', then we have our reason to work at achieving stillness - because stillness is such an excellent way into prayer.
Next, let's look at what would be useful practical prerequisites. We need to find a place where we can be still and we need to put aside some time when we can be still. Not always easy - but if the motivation is there, then we'll find them somehow.
Having found our place and some time, where to next? If you're like me your mind will usually be busy with a hundred and one things and the list of to-do jobs will be lying in wait to mug you at the first opportunity. What I need at this moment is attentiveness. That might seem contradictory, but it's really not.
My first attentiveness needs to be to my body. To let go of the tensions that are embracing it. We all keep our tension in different ways within our body - mine is in my neck and shoulders. So I pay attention to my neck and shoulders and focus on relaxing the muscles there. Then, I find that focussing on relaxing the muscles of my face has a very 'releasing' feeling. I let the tension and stress flow away.
My second attentiveness needs to be to my mind - to all those buzzing thoughts. In Psalm 46 we are exhorted to 'Be still, and know that I am God!' So, why not use the words to help? As I let the tensions slowly release, I am attentive to my breathing and allow it to steady to a natural rhythm. Then on the in-breath say, 'Be' and on the out-breath, 'still'. Or you might prefer 'Be still' / 'Know God' or 'Know me'. Being attentive to my breathing allows my mind to become more quiet and slowly, instead of saying 'Be still', I find that I am becoming still.
Now, my third attentiveness is to God. As my body and mind still, then my focus can move away from myself and towards the source of my being. When you are in love, you can sit and be still with the loved one for long periods of time - looking deeply into their eyes, simply enjoying their presence, smiling at them. That is what this third attentiveness is about. Being in loving, still presence with God. Letting your love flow out towards your maker. Perhaps wrapped in spiritual smiles - or perhaps more serious. Simply loving and being loved.
If you use this method of prayer, then after the third attentiveness (which may initially seem a very short time but with practice will lengthen), simply talk to God - about how wonderful God is, about the ups and downs of your day, about the ups and downs of praying.
And if you sometimes fall asleep, don't worry about it! You're in good company!