Perhaps it may not be to the benefit of others, but I take as my lead in this the examples of those who have gone before. When they sought to discuss prayer and meditation, they drew upon their learning and training, not to expound what had been written by those who had gone before, but rather to expound with greater that which they themselves had experienced…
With that in mind, I would like to discuss how I pray when I am tired.
It comes about often that I will come to the end of my day, say 8 pm or 9 pm, and I will be very tired and stressed. When I say these words, I think of very concrete and specific sensations. Tensions in my head and shoulders, a kind of static feeling in my thinking, and a whole host of discomforts that I have come to appreciate as being a common part of ministry.
I set myself out first and foremost to feel and process these sensations, not trying to force them away. In the words of St. John of the Cross, I seek not satisfaction nor pleasure, nor comfort. I sit with them.
I do so my drawing my attention upon Christ’s presence within my heart. I do not say, I imagine, or that connecting with this presence is some sort of technique, but rather through discipline and practice, I believe I have come to experience and know Christ’s presence within my soul.
In the words of St. Gregory of Nyssa: I close the channel of the senses, and dwell within this presence, focusing my breathing and my thoughts towards it. I narrow the aperture of my mind, slowly tuning out all sense experience and focusing my attention there.
As I do so, I gaze upon my body and mind in relation to this still point. I see my fears, my aches, my discomforts, and I mourn them as Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn.” Then I stir within my heart, or rather the Spirit stirs within me, a sweet remembrance and desire for that stillness I am listening to… for as it says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”
In time, as I focus more and more on this stillness, and my desire is aflame, a great ball of light and love begins to emerge from the recesses of the heart. Pain is turned into ecstasy. Tensions release… perhaps in 20 to 30 minutes… and the senses are flooded with light. This does not always take place, but when it does the faculties are suspended for the space of 5 minutes to as long (in the rare occasion) as 1 hour.
When I return from this sweet communion, the faculties work with a great energy and vitality. They are refreshed by the Spirit and they gaze upon discursive meditation and reflection with a renewed sense of wonder and awe. This communion makes easy the path of obedience and surrender, it quickens the will’s surrender to Christ and Church, and it fills the heart with all manner of noble sentiments…
Then, I am sent back from Mt. Tabor into the world. Mission emerges, the apostolate returns, and I am set back on the path of fruitful work.
Fr. Ian, is this your experience, or are you still quoting St. Gregory of Nyssa here? “Pain is turned into ecstasy. Tensions release… perhaps in 20 to 30 minutes… and the senses are flooded with light. This does not always take place, but when it does the faculties are suspended for the space of 5 minutes to as long (in the rare occasion) as 1 hour.”
That’s me… the phrase “close the channel of the senses” comes from St. Gregory, but I am describing my experience and not trying to explain what he meant.
Wow, ok thanks!
Whoever said it, I think it is something worth pondering and applying when possible. I seem to fall apart when I am really exhausted.
Thanks… The article is me. When I quote someone else, it is describe what I experience
Fr. Ian, thank you for sharing this, I find that I often retire for the evening exhausted and that my prayer of communion with the Lord is less than it should be. You have helped me realize that the negativity in my head is getting in the way of communing more closely with God. Thanks again.
Thanks Elizabeth… Hope I continue to help you draw closer to our Lord
I’m still fairly new to the prayer life, and am not quite at the level you’re at, so more often than not I feel discouraged and distracted during prayer. But I read a quote the other day from St. John of the Cross that has really brought some peace into my prayer life: “Preserve a loving attentiveness to God with no desire to feel or understand any particular thing concerning Him.” As long as I try to focus on Him, specifically His light within me, but don’t worry about understanding any of it or “feeling” anything when it happens, I can find peace at the end of my prayers even if I don’t perceive that anything happened at all because I know that there’s a lot of work God can do without me even being aware of it. I now welcome those opportunities to trust to God and to grow in the virtues of fortitude and perseverance.
Thanks so much for the comment… beautiful insight