God is love. And so, prayer, the pursuit of God, is also a pursuit of love. Relationships then are the school of prayer.
There's a Sufi tale about a young man who came to a Sufi master seeking the life of prayer. "Have you ever fallen in love with a woman?" the master asked. "No, not yet. I'm only 18," replied the seeker. "Then go and do that first." (for this tale see the Speaking of Faith interview with Dr. Keshavarz)
I'd like to think I can go the other way: love God and I'll learn to love others. Frankly, it seems safer, purer. But it can be more self-deceptive; I can hide behind my piety. So, the Sufi mystic's got something right. Love another truly and you'll learn the path to God. Experience the free-fall, the frightening tumble into vulnerability before the other. Nothing between you.
Become "naked and unafraid" (Genesis 3). This is the way of prayer . . . fragile and humbling, difficult and painful.
Love, and you'll find yourself right in the middle of the way of prayer.
Seek the face of the other whose love threatens to undo you, whose love will ask you to pull down the masks and illusions, challenging the falsehoods and pretentions. For ultimately the mind with all its games stands dumb before the mystery that is God, and only love can carry you across the final abyss.
Love is "where God is encountered in the nakedness of pure trust." Thomas Merton, see: