Ware "When you pray," it has been wisely said by an Orthodox writer in Finland, "you yourself must be silent. . . . You must be silent; let the prayer speak."  To achieve silence: this is of all things the hardest and the most decisive in the art of prayer.

So begins Bishop Kallistos Ware's little booklet on the Jesus Prayer.  A theologian at Oxford University, Ware insightful draws the ancient Christian practice into the modern world.  I've written often about the Jesus Prayer or Prayer of the Heart, and commend the little book to you.

Below is an email exchange with a reader. He's given permission to post these notes. I thought it would be helpful for you to hear about another reader's journey into the prayer of the heart . . .

Dear Chris;

I write to say “thank you” for the encouragement I have received from your honest reflections in the downloadable eBook Returning to the Center. I sincerely hope that part 2 is available before too long. Is the entire book available anywhere? I have, so far, been unsuccessful in my web-searches I arrived at your website, and the above eBook, after reading comments about you and your work in Alan Roxburgh’s book Missional Map-Making and found that your writing spoke directly to the kind of journey I seem to be making at present. It is a journey into prayer of the heart – and I am experiencing all the many distractions, of which you speak.

Kind Regards

Peter

Dear Peter;

Thank you for your thoughtful note. Alas, part two is on hold for quite awhile. I'm working on another book on prayer now. Part two of my memoir requires some maturing before I can write honestly about the years since the first part ended. It'll be out someday, but not soon enough for you. My advice is to simply practice the Jesus Prayer. That sounds so terribly unhelpful, I realize. There are several books that you might find helpful. Here's a little list: Prayer in the Cave of the Heart, Cyprian Consiglio; Word Into Silence, John Main; The Cloud of Unknowing with the Book of Privy Counsel, a new translation by Carmen Aceveo Butcher (soooo excellent!); John Main: The Expanding Vision, ed. by Laurence Freeman and Stefan Reynolds, Prayer, Abhishiktananda.

The key is to simply practice what you know. Too many of us spend too much time reading and casting around for help when the help is as near as the beating of our hearts, close as our next breath. The ego doesn't want to admit that though and will keep disturbing you. Your chief work is to simply learn to step around the ego through contemplative practice. It'll learn to relax and "stand down" eventually. But it must learn, first that your serious and second, that stepping around it (the ego) isn't about its destruction, but its salvation. The recitation of the Name, along with the breath, will bath your ego in love and over the long haul it'll learn to trust that it doesn't always have to be in charge [smile].

Blessings your life and ministry, brother.

Chris

Dear Chris;

I have simply devoured your eBook. In my imagination, and feeling similarly spread rather too thinly like butter over toast (wonderful metaphor!), I accompanied you to the Wadi Natroun, to Iona, and finally Oxford; each places of great significance and interest to me. I have not yet read Merton, though I am aware of him through other writers. I am learning from your journey that the spiritual journey is a shared one, even though the physical one may never be a reality for me. You reiterated in your email that the key was realizing that the answers were as close as "the beating of our hearts, close as our next breath." And you are so right about the ego, with its clamouring voices, as one intentionally sets about cultivating contemplative practices. This is precisely my experience too.

Regards, and God bless you.

Peter

Continued from a previous series of posts on the stages of spiritual growth . . . You're sitting quietly, resting, waiting, being in the presence of God.

And now . . . when something draws you away again—and it will (for these moments of pure prayer, absolute awareness of nothing but God, are fleeting)—simply take note that you were drawn away temporarily and return to the Beloved. Open your heart to love. Become drunk with love, full of light. Your untamed thoughts and feelings will become disoriented when they encounter a soul aflame with love; they’ll recede, I promise. You’re forgetting all but Love, and Love will tame the wild beasts inside you—your mind, your commands, and your will cannot.

Wait, wait, wait in stillness until you reach the silence which is the voice of the Beloved, then on the inhale, speak inwardly, “Jesus,” and on the exhale, “Mercy,” or some other simple prayer. The grace of God will come to you on the wings of this humble, interior prayer. These words, once planted in your heart, will become the seeds of unceasing prayer. Repeat them, following your uncontrolled breath as you rest in God.

When you’ve come to the end of the time you’ve allotted for this exercise (you might use a quiet alarm so you don’t have to keep looking at the clock), simply bring your soul to an awareness of the external world outside you. Thank the beloved Trinity and re-enter the day.

To be continued . . .

The heart is like the furnace in Babylon where the three brave souls were met and sustained by the Divine presence. It is also like the burning bush from which God spoke to Moses.  Again, your heart is like the rock in the desert that gushed forth water, saving the children of Israel. Enter it.

Many today are ignorant of the treasures of Eastern Orthodoxy. But much of what I write here on this blog simply mines those treasures, making them available to modern people, and in particular, Prostestants---all who seek a deeper and richer experience of God. In this short video interview, Bishop Kallistos Ware of Oxford, talks about what Protestants (especially evangelicals) can learn from the Orthodox, and the Orthodox from Protestants.

Ware winsomely explores our inner experience with Christ in the Holy Spirit . . . that Christianity is not an ideology or philosophical system, dogma or a list of moral rules, but an experiential reality.

You'll enjoy this delightful little interview:

I've referred to Kallistos Ware elsewhere and heartily suggest his writings, especially his little book, The Power of the Name (listed here on my Recommended Books page).