In whatever way we are called to pray, as our prayers deepen we find our self drawn beyond any words into the interior silence of real communion with God. There, in the silence within the heart, a meeting and merging take place that carry us beyond our self into the mystery of divine presence, into the secret nature of love’s oneness.
— Introduction, p. xxv
In our busy lives it is so easy to forget the Divine, to be immersed in our own problems and our own selves. The mystic knows that what really matters is the inner connection of the heart in which our heart opens and cries. It is something so simple and yet so easily overlooked. Prayer is a way to be with God.
— ch. 1, Prayer and Listening, p. 2
Learning to pray is learning to listen. Within the heart we learn to wait with patience for God’s words, which may come even when we have not asked. Listening itself is a form of prayer, in which our whole being is receptive. Prayer is communion with God; we share with Him our needs, and we also learn to be attentive...
— ch. 1, Prayer and Listening, p. 4
All those who learn to listen within know the importance of discrimination: what is the genuine voice of God and what is the voice of the ego, or even split-off parts of our personality or psyche.(20) How easily we are deceived by our mind and ego into imagining what we want to hear, how quickly we are led astray.
— ch. 1, Prayer and Listening, p. 8
By listening within the heart we develop the ear of the heart, the inner listening of the soul that can perceive at this higher frequency. Still, such listening requires both attentiveness and discrimination, as it is not always easy to discriminate between the voice of the ego and the voice of our Beloved. But there is a distinct difference: the words of the ego and mind belong to duality; the words of the heart carry the imprint of oneness. In the heart there is no argument, no you and me, just an unfolding oneness. The heart embraces a difficulty, while the ego takes sides.
— ch. 1, Prayer and Listening, p. 11
Mystical prayer draws us into a more and more intimate relationship with our soul and with God. St. Teresa of Avila describes prayer and meditation as the door into the castle of the soul; she compares souls without prayer to people whose bodies are paralyzed.(24) In her autobiography, The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus, she outlines four stages of prayer: recollection, quiet, union, and ecstasy. She uses the image of a gardener watering his garden to describe these stages. At the beginning the gardener must make a great effort to draw the water up from the well, but slowly the drawing of the water becomes easier and the effort of the gardener becomes less and less, until in the final stage there is no longer even a gardener, only the Lord Himself soaking the garden in abundant rain.
— ch. 2, Stages of Prayer, p. 15
Love is the desire of the heart that can help us overcome the desires of the ego. St. Paul said, “Love bears all things”;(29)love gives us the strength to bear the difficulties, doubts, and uncertainties that the ego and the mind place in our path. If we know ourselves as lovers then we know the meaning of our sacrifice and we can cross the desert that lies between the ego and the Self.
Love helps us to stay true to the essence of our quest in these testing times. Yet so often the heart itself seems barren or closed. St. Teresa says, describing the seeker in this state, “For many days, he is conscious only of aridity, disgust, dislike.”(30)This is the time for perseverance, when willpower and determination are needed to see us through. Pride can also be helpful. Not the pride of the ego that says I am better than others, but the dignity of the Self, the instinctual inner nobility of the human being which speaks to the suffering ego and says, “Others have done this before me and I am not less than they.” The spiritual path is the most demanding challenge that a human being can face.
— ch. 2, Stages of Prayer, p. 19
But we live this state of receptivity of the soul also in our daily life. Whatever our outer activities, our heart is inwardly attentive. However, this does not make everyday life easier, because our inner attention is always somewhere else. As St. Teresa says, although the soul engages in outer activity, “the better part of the soul is elsewhere. It is as if we were speaking to one person, and another speaking to us at the same time, while we ourselves are not perfectly attentive either to the one or to the other.”
The work of the mystic is to live in the two worlds. However much we are engaged in the outer world, we remain inwardly in a state of prayer, resting in God. This practice of constant inner prayer is described in the Qur’an: “Men whom neither business nor profit distract from the recollection of God.”(43)And for the Sufi it is expressed in the saying “Outwardly to be with the people, inwardly to be with God.”(44)We live amidst the ordinariness as well as the dramas and difficulties of everyday life, with our family and job. And yet we remain inwardly vigilant, our heart awake to the needs of our Beloved.
— ch. 2, Stages of Prayer, p. 28
Some of the potency of the Jesus Prayer and the dhikr lies in the power of the name. In a traditional or sacred language the name contains the essence of that which is named. To know a person’s name allows you access to her true nature, to her soul. That is why in traditional cultures there is often a taboo against telling your name to someone who is not a close family member. The magical relationship between the name and a person is evident in the story of Rumpelstiltskin, who loses his power when his name is known. The same tradition is evident in the response of the angel to Manoah, “Why askest thou after my name, seeing it is secret?”(64)
— ch. 3. The Jesus Prayer and the Dhikr, p.43
The breath is the bridge between the outer physical world and the inner world of the soul. While we are alive, with each cycle of the breath the soul makes its journey into this world and then back to God. The mystic aspires to make this journey conscious. This journey is the lived prayer of the soul, an offering of our self to the mystery of life and its all-embracing relationship to God. Repeating the name of the One we love, we consciously connect the two worlds, the inner world of the spirit and the physical world. With each breath we are present in the love affair that is the relationship between the Creator and the creation.
— ch. 3. The Jesus Prayer and the Dhikr, p.46
The real nature of mystical prayer is to draw us into this most intimate mystery of divine love. The mystic comes to know that the essence of prayer is this hidden secret of the heart -- that there is only oneness. For when the heart is open and looks towards God it is awakened to the revelation of divine unity -- “I am He whom I love, He whom I love is me.” This state of prayer is a merging and melting that transcends the mind and its notions of duality: the heart overwhelms us with divine presence that obliterates any sense of our own self.
— ch. 4. The Circle of Love, p. 52
The intensity of our feeling takes us beyond the ego. The stronger our need and the greater our longing, the more the heart cries out. This is why Ibn ‘Arabî prayed, “Oh Lord nourish me not with love but with the desire for love.”(84)He knew that this desire would tear away the veils of separation and reveal what is hidden. The veils themselves create the separation, distracting us from the reality of our oneness with God, catching our attention in a world of multiplicity. Need turns us inward, away from these myriad reflections towards the Source, the oneness that is the root of our desire.
— ch. 4. The Circle of Love, p. 59
Prayer is an ablution of the heart, for it takes us into the purifying stream of love that flows at the core of creation.
— ch. 4. The Circle of Love, p. 59
As the heart’s prayer deepens we merge more and more within the heart, into the oneness that is our divine promise. We step from the shores of our own aloneness, our sense of separation, into love’s ocean where we are always with our Beloved, sometimes so merged in this ocean, so drowned in love, that there is no sense of self. And yet always we seem to return, to our need, our inadequacies, our limitations. This seems to be part of our human nature and the very nature of prayer: we need and we cry out. Even when we realize the secret of oneness we still need: we are still human. And our prayers are always heard. Even when it appears that they are unanswered they are still heard.
— ch. 4. The Circle of Love, p. 61
... real spiritual awakening is the awakening of the heart in which the Divine comes alive within us. Our outer self, even our outer life, may appear to remain as before. But in the depths of our being something fundamental has changed. We have become an empty space where this miracle of love can happen.
— ch. 5. The Heart Prays, p. 67
We are living in a time of ecological devastation, the catastrophic effect of our materialistic culture on the ecosystem. Our rivers are toxic, the rainforests slashed and burned, vast tracts of land made a wasteland due to our insatiable desires for oil, gas, and minerals. We have raped and pillaged and polluted the earth, pushing it into the dangerous state of imbalance we call climate change. Creation itself is now calling to us, sending us signs of its imbalance, and the soul of the world, the anima mundi, which the ancients understood as the spiritual presence of the earth, is crying out. We can see these signs in all the recent floods and droughts, feel it in the poisoning of the land from pesticides and other contaminants. Those whose hearts are open may hear it too, in the cry of the world soul, of the spiritual being of our mother the earth. It is a cry of need and despair: human beings, who were supposed to be the guardians of the planet, who long ago were taught the sacred names of creation,(95)have forgotten their responsibility and instead have systematically and heedlessly desecrated and destroyed the earth on a global scale.
— ch. 6. Prayer for the Earth, p. 71
Footnotes to Excerpts
20. "Hearing voices" is a well-known expression of schizophrenia, and the mystic quickly learns when and when not to tell others about their inner voice.
24. Interior Castle, trans. E. Allison Peers, First Mansion, chap. 1.
29. I Corinthians 13:7.
30. The Autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila, chap. 11, p. 83.
43. Sûra 24:37.
44. This practice of inner seclusion belongs especially to the Naqshbandi Sufi order and their principle of "Solitude in the Crowd." In the words of Sa'îd al-Kharrâz, "Perfection is not in exhibitions of miraculous powers, but perfection is to sit among people, sell and buy, marry and have children; and yet never leave the presence of Allâh even for one moment."
64. Judges 13:18.
84. Quoted by Claude Addas, Quest for the Red Sulphur: The Life of Ibn 'Arabî, p. 61.
95. "God taught Adam the names, all of them." (Qur'an 2:31) In the Bible it is stated that "Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field." (Genesis 2:20) Adam in Hebrew means "human being."