Spiritual Life

This prayer practice engages the heart and brings peace

In the early Church, the Desert Fathers and Mothers believed prayer and life to be one.

Abba Poemen, an early Desert Father said, “Teach your mouth to say what is in your heart.” Or, as Franciscan priest Father Richard Rohr paraphrases, “Bring your thinking down into your heart.”

I have been taught to meditate or to pray prayers like the Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be to the Father or to read scripture or devotional books in prayer. When life throws me a curve, of course, there’s 911 prayers – frantic emergency “Mercy help me!” or “Jesus, Mary and Joseph!” prayers that I blurt out seemingly without thought.

Richard Rohr teaches a prayer practice that involves literally bringing the person or life situation down into our heart space. Be it a negative thought, a feeling of resentment, a fear, or a church or world travesty.

Can I prayerfully learn to engage my heart and hold the situation there in sacred silence?

After reading about this prayer practice, I recalled a day I was in a hit-and-run car accident. There was minimal damage done to my car and I was not physically injured, but I was totally shook up by it. I replayed the incident over and over in my mind, questioning why I happened to be in that place, in that moment in time, in order for it to have happened.

In the midst of my story-making, the idea to pray for the person who hit me intruded on my thoughts. I began to wonder what was going on in his or her life?

My heart engaged in prayer for the well-being of my assailant. Instantly, peace came to me and I was able to let go of the incident. I suppose that is what happens when we bring our thinking down into our hearts. We are changed in the process.

Jesus prayed “… that all may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.” John 17:21

Perhaps in the spirit realm, our prayers enter the mystery of our oneness and spiritual life flows out to others in and through us, just like oxygen and nutrients are pumped out from our hearts to our body tissues.

Is this what needs to happen when we tell people “You are in my thoughts and prayers?” We are bringing thoughts of them down into our hearts where love dwells and the flow of grace gets activated.

The prayer practice suggests that the next time our mind struggles with negative thoughts that want to attach -- about our life or a person in our lives -- try engaging your heart. Then surround it with silence where there is no need to judge or create a story. Let the warmth of blood flow and work its wonders in and through us.

Cathy Rhoads is a chaplain and spiritual director who attends Christ the King Church in Richland. Questions and comments should be directed to editor Lucy Luginbill in care of the Tri-City Herald newsroom, 333 W. Canal Drive, Kennewick, WA 99336. Or email lluginbill@tricityherald.com.