Thursday, May 24, 2012

Integration of Prayer of the Heart in a Rule of Life

 Integration of Prayer of the Heart in a Rule of Life

To unify our life utterly with Christ we must make commitments that are incarnated in daily praxis or actualization. In other words it isn't enough to have lovely thoughts or intentions about our life of Refuge in the Heart of Christ.  We must **do** something to deepen our daily gift of self in love to the Beloved Yeshua. This is especially true for those who follow the Way of the Heart. The most sublime illumination or unitive experiences can become only pleasant memories if we do not consecrate our life and commitment, moment to moment, to the living Truth of those experiences.  This consecrated life takes expression in making every act of attention one of adoration of Christ in the present moment and every choice one of self-giving love to Christ. St. Benedict in his Rule says "Prefer nothing to Christ." We must make each moment of life in the Prayer of the Heart a choice for singular Refuge in the Heart of Christ. Yeshua must be our breath, Yeshua must be our life, and Yeshua must become in the course of a lifetime our home and sole refuge. From the monastic tradition we solemnize and incarnate this commitment in a personal Rule of Life.

What is a Rule of Life? - Marjorie Thompson, in her book on Christian Spiritual Disciplines, Soul Feast, says: “ A rule of life is a pattern of spiritual disciplines which provides structure and direction for growth in holiness. When we speak of patterns in our life, we mean attitudes, behaviors, or elements that are routine, regular, repeated.  .... It is meant to help us establish a rhythm of daily living, a basic order within which new freedoms can grow. A rule of life, like a trellis, curbs our tendency to wander and supports our frail efforts to grow spiritually.” (Thompson. p.138)

Why do we need a Rule of Life? -  The spiritual journey in Prayer of the Heart starts with the insight that Christ alone is our heart’s desire, and it is only when communion with Yeshua is the wellspring of every action, every choice, and every goal, that we find completion and essential happiness and peace in life.  At the same time the Prayer of the Heart tradition acknowledges the tremendous resistance in the ego-self to the life of transformation. Life long conversion takes us from private self seeking and the impulses of our misdirected desires, to bringing Christ at the center of all we do, "To prefer nothing to Christ."  Spiritual maturation therefore requires commitment, and commitment requires discipline, the capacity and willingness to be faithful, moment to moment, and day by day, to our practices of relational life and refuge in Christ. This goal of growing intimacy and realization that for us Christ is both personal and oceanic presence of the Divine Beloved, is to be realized through the life of ceaseless Prayer of the Heart, in all things, in all moments of life. The Rule of Life is a commitment to ceaseless prayer, ceaseless communion in Christ.


Our Personal Covenant with Christ  in the Way of the Heart
Consecrated Silent Communion- To cultivate this communion we need established, consecrated times of the day which we set aside for the central relationship in our life, from which all relationships spring. The nature of that time of silent communion in formal sitting practice can be restful and restoring, but its essence is our self-giving to Christ. We keep watch with Christ and wait on His Presence, and open to His love. We breathe Yeshua and it is enough.

Consecrated Reading and Reflection- We need to also give time to reading and reflecting about the Christ who is our heart’s desire. The practice of Lectio Divina comes to us from the ancients as a way of moving from the textual word of God with the mind to the Living Word of Christ in interior silence. We should make of this a Holy Leisure, which is both restoring and enriching.

Consecrated Contrition and Conversion- Contrition and Conversion are ceaseless practice. Therefore it is essential to set times of gazing in the mirror of self-reflection and recollection each day.  This is usually best done in the evening at prayer time in conjunction with our evening Prayer of the Heart session. We do this not to judge or condemn or deem any part of our humanity unworthy. Rather we do this so that we can be willing to look honestly and nakedly at all those elements in our life, in our mental activity, in our actions, in our ethics, in our inner and outer life, which are not in harmony with interior communion with God. We stand naked and hold before the merciful eyes of Christ all of our humanity, all of the dark places in our mind and consciousness that need His love and truth to be healed. We look closely for those aspects of our daily life that lead us from our deepest intention of refuge in Christ or worse, bring injury to our intimacy with Him. This daily practice brings the utter freedom of contrition, forgiveness, and release from all that impedes the love of Christ in our life. In Yeshua the grace of conversion is always being offered. We can only make ourselves accessible to it.

 Consecrated Service/Work- The praxis of our love of Yeshua extends to all of our community, to all beings, to all Creation, to love and serve Christ in the world around us. Each of us will do this uniquely with our own gifts. Without making vows of service of some kind, our Covenant of Communion with God is incomplete and defies the purpose of Prayer of the Heart, which is to bring forth the God-life of Agape into the world. This is true whether our service is peeling potatoes, weeding the garden, caring for our families, ministering to the sick, or cleaning up the polluted waterways in our community. In consecrated work practice we bring the fullness of our presence to the service before us, and do all we do as offering to the love of Christ. We do consecrated work practice in the great tradition of Brother Lawrence and the practice of the Presence of God, and in the Benedictine monastic rule of prayer in work. This service is the praxis of Ceaseless Prayer of the Heart in the service of Christ in all Creation.

Community Prayer and Liturgical Practice- We do not come to God alone. "Where two or three are gathered" in Yeshua we find Him there. This may be more readily attainable for some than others. We may need to be creative and flexible in finding our community of practice in Prayer of the Heart, whether local or long distance.  We include the community of those who walk with us presently on the Prayer of the Heart path and the wisdom of those who have walked before.  We enter the stream of God's Love with other followers of the Way of the Heart in the eternal Present.

Accountability- Vows of Practice- It is good to share our Rule of Life with at least one trusted soul friend or spiritual mentor. It is good to ask that person to pray for you, to help us to be faithful to our covenant of Refuge in Christ a friend in the spirit with whom we can discuss our covenant and daily practice from time to time. Having an experienced guide or teacher in Prayer of the Heart is a blessing indeed if such a person is nearby.

Our "Rule of Life" or " Personal Covenant with Christ" are vows of relational practice. Our Vows of Practice are akin to marriage or friendship vows. They are serious commitments. At the same time we must cultivate the humility to accept that we will fail in our faithfulness at times. Yet we must not give into discouragement, but as in a marriage or deep friendship, return to our practice, our singular desire to give ourselves to the Love of Christ and find no refuge in any other thing. This singular desire, to "prefer nothing to Christ" is our life and the core of our vows of practice.

Our Wholehearted Yes to Christ
Despite the value of having a formalized commitment to the "whole cloth" of daily practice and the disciplines that sustain it, we should never lose sight of the utter simplicity of this practice. Everything we do in our life, in our Prayer of the Heart practice, is at the service of this one central desire to respond to the invitation of Yeshua, to abide always in Him, in His Love. To be fully offered, fully given in love to Yeshua, our heart's desire, is the completion and fulfillment of the Christian path of consecrated life.