Jesus grew up in Nazareth, a peasant of Galilee. Galilee was hill country and life there was difficult. A drought or bad harvest could endanger whole villages. Infant mortality was about thirty percent, and only sixty percent of children lived beyond teenage years. The peasants' diet was poor: bread, olives, wine; lentils, a few greens, figs, an occasionally some cheese or yoghurt. Religious practices were simple. In the rural villages there were no scribes or priests. Families practiced the faith with great devotion, for their vulnerability meant they had little hope except in God.

Twice a day, upon rising and at the time of sleep, peasant families recited a simple prayer, the Shema Israel: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might" (This portion from the Torah is what Jesus refers to in Mark 12.29-30).

There was little time for extended prayers, and of course, no possibility of reading sacred texts, since no one could read. The prayers were simple, intense, and frequently recited. It reminded these peasants of the one thing that mattered most to them: to love God with every fiber of their being.

Intention: Today, I will gather my life and energy around the simple act of loving God. My head and hands may be busy with ideas and plans and work, but my heart can rest in God through a simple prayer I can return to over an over again.

You know, don't you, how your thoughts crowd and push inside your head, almost incessantly, from the moment you rise to the moment you fall asleep. Even sleep is no vacation from the thoughts that assault and confuse and entertain. Because of this mind-parade of incessant thoughts, most of us are living a spiritual catastrophe. We float along in the flotsam of thoughts, carried somewhere, and often feeling we have very little power to escape them. One long, sleepless night is evidence enough that you're among that mass of sufferers. Or maybe you anesthetize yourself by falling asleep to the TV, or getting a little help from a drink or drug.

Truth is, you are not your thoughts. The very fact that you can think a thought, watch a thought, even exchange thoughts is proof that there's a you beyond your thoughts.

St Paul said, "Take every thought captive" (2 Corinthians 10.5). Paul knew that there's a you who can take your thoughts captive, who doesn't have to be a slave to the stuff parading through your brain.


This kind of spiritual freedom is the fruit of the prayer of the heart--a form of prayer that can occupy you for a lifetime, but is so simply a child can practice it. The prayer of the heart is simply the practice of the steady, patient, and habitual drawing the mind down into the heart using a simple prayer like the Lord's Prayer or the words "Jesus have mercy." By repeating the prayer, reverently, mindfully, you'll find yourself resting there in your heart with the Christ who dwells within you. It can be practiced even during the busiest moments of daily life.

"The head and hands at work," the saints instruct us, "and the heart at rest in prayer."

Intention: Today, I will pause periodically throughout the day; whisper a simple prayer silently in my heart, and commune with Christ for awhile and give my mind a break from the steady stream of thoughts within.

This is an advanced teaching, but a goal toward which even the beginning disciple can aspire.  Thomas a'Kempis, in his book, The Imitation of Christ, says: "Desire to be stripped of all, and once naked you will be ready to follow the naked Jesus. All your foolish imaginings will disappear, as well as the evil thoughts and useless worries that plague you." He wrote that in the fifteenth century, but it so easily fits with today. Foolish imaginings? Useless worries? How many of those imaginings and worries crowd into my brain like fearful Americans lined up at the gun counter at Walmart?

Yet Jesus himself said: "Do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. And do not be afraid, little flock. Sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven" (Luke 12.22-34).

We've got too much stuff to take care of, organize, and protect. It gets in the way of what you really crave: the Beloved.

Intention: Today, I'll let myself feel the weight of all I own. Not just my stuff, but my ambition, my hopes, my fears. And I'll choose to let one thing go, and as I do, draw nearer to Christ.

When I become quiet, still, seeking the simplicity of face to face, heart to heart encounter with God, my mind leaps into the void. It feels like a cage full of monkey's on crack. I told this recently to a group of university students who I've been teaching to pray contemplatively, and one of them blurted out, "And they're all throwing poo." It often feels just like that. My thoughts crowding in, pushing, chattering, hollering, and yes, throwing poo.

So, when I enter the silence, seeking God, I do what Christians throughout the ages have done when facing the same inner chaos. I simply speak the Name of Jesus over and over again in my heart. I join the Name to my breathing, which, in the biblical tradition, is linked to the Spirit. This accords with the teaching of Jesus that we are to keep our words simple and not go babbling like those who think that by their many words they'll be heard by God (Matthew 6.7).

This repitition is no dull ritual. The Name of Jesus is a prayer itself. And through the recitation of the Name, I draw these maverick thoughts down into my heart, where Christ himself awaits me (Ephesians 3.17-19).

The beauty is this . . . I can do this anywhere. In solitude before dawn, when the house is quiet. As I'm showering and shaving. While eating, driving, typing this little reflection, even leading a meeting or while in a conversation. The Name, joined to my breath, begins to become a habitual prayer, a way of keeping my core alive to Christ, and a way to live out St Paul's instruction: "Pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5.17).

Intention: Today, I'll put the Name of Jesus upon the inner lips of my heart. I'll join my mind with my heart around the Name, and one by one I'll invite my maverick thoughts to rest before their Lord and mine. It won't happen all at once, but this is a start of a whole new way of being.

The best way to experience God is to stop talking. The praying saints testify that silence is the language of God. So does the Bibble. The prophet Habbakuk said, "The Lord is in his holy temple, let all the earth stand silent before him" (Habbakuk 2.20). When Elijah the prophet was seeking God on the mountain, we're told that God came to him not in a might wind, not in a mighty shaking of the earth, not in flames of fire, but in the "sound of sheer silence" (1 Kings 19.12). Silence and stillness and simplicity create the environment for unmediated encounter with the Holy.

Jim's a friend who's learned this truth. An active person, engaged in upper corporate management, competent, and hungry for God, he's learned to cultivate a contemplative posture in the midst of a very busy life. He spends time each day in silence before God. Not asking God for anything. Not reading. His only effort is to still his thoughts, and clear the internal clutter for just a few minutes.

Grinning, he once told me: "Silence is so loud."

Intention: Today, I'll practice a moment or more of silence . . . in simple stillness before God. It won't come easily. I get that. But I crave what can come to me only when I'm open, receptive, quiet.