I set the timer for an non-intimidating five minutes. We decided to begin with the Our Father, and at the end of the five minutes of silence, to pray the Glory Be.
He said he was a little nervous. I agreed that it felt funny.
Inner prayer, or “mental prayer,” as St. Teresa of Avila called it, is at the heart of my life as a Carmelite, and he knew all about it. But I had not actually shared the practice of it with him.
We sat catty corner to each other, the cat asleep in the crook of his arm. He surprised me by putting his hand in mine after I closed my eyes. That was very nice, and re-enforced what we were doing; coming before God as a couple, opening our hearts to Him and to one another.
I shifted so that I was more comfortable.
The timer gently rang out its “ding ….. ding…. ding.” As agreed, we prayed aloud a slow, comfortable Our Father, and then fell silent.
I was surprised that the silence felt casual. I felt like we were old friends who had just let a conversation drift into comfortable quiet.
It was interesting to me that as I retreated into my “inner room” to pray, and became recollected, I felt like Mark’s presence came along. My inner quiet was strengthened by his.
It wasn’t embarrassing or uncomfortable at all. It was just a summer day in Bryan, the song of cicadas, a sleeping cat, a dozing dog, a clock ticking, the whir of the ceiling fan, the silent love of a praying couple, and quiet, and God.
It was easy.
And then my mind started thinking about it. Thinking… thinking…
I inwardly began to invoke the Name of Jesus whenever a thought came up. The Name of Jesus, said with love, is a prayer in itself.
Then in simple peace, I didn’t have to do anything.
After a while, my heart prayed on its own from deep within itself,
“We are beautiful, we are Jesus, we are love.”
“Glory be,” we said, “to the Father….
and to the Son,
and to the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning,
and ever shall be,
world without end.
I leaned over and gave him a kiss.
“Kiss of peace,” I said. He smiled.
What did he think?
He thought the five minutes very nice, and not too difficult. His found his mind wandering a couple of times, but he redirected himself to prayer without inner comment. He was surprised how quickly the time went, and how peaceful it was.
Later, on his way to Austin, he called me just to tell me he loved me. We talked about how close we felt.
He said he liked praying that way, and we should do that more often.
We were less stressed out, and we felt closer.
Taking some quiet time together in a way that is prayer not only gave us a stopping place and a new beginning in our day, but strength for the journey, the peace that comes from re-centering in God, and a sense of a closer, stronger bond.
What do you do with the silence?
There are several different established methods of inner prayer in the Church, and various ways to calm your body and mind in order to become recollected to open the way to praying deeply and in greater simplicity and receptivity to God. Here is a little format to try.
- Set a non-startling timer for 2-5 minutes.
- Sit comfortably, in a relaxed, supported position, with your back relatively straight.
- Pray aloud together an Our Father.
- Today, to clear the way to inner prayer, you might try first paying attention to the sounds outside. Then bring your attention to sounds in your room. Then listen to the sound of your own, or your partners’ breathing.
- When you breathe in, think, “I let go.” When you breathe out, think, “and I let God.” Do this a few times.
- Silently pray the Name of Jesus. Repeat it inwardly, slowly, and from the heart. He is here, closer than your breath.
- When you find your mind wandering, which is normal, bring your focus back the prayer, “Jesus.” Continue in this way, for the rest of your silent time.
- Pray aloud together the “Glory be.”
Why pray in silence?
Because, as St. John of the Cross says, “The language [God] hears best is silent love.”
Silence opens us to the “still small voice” within that Elijah experienced, which was God speaking in the silence of his heart. (1 Kngs. 19:11-13)
As the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing, a Medieval spiritual classic, pointed out, God cannot be known or reached by the intellect, He can only be known and reached by love.
God can be taken and held by love but not by thought. ~ The Cloud of Unknowing
When we silence or detach from our inner clutter, we are free to be in conscious contact with God by way of simple love, to “hold” Him, and to let ourselves be held.
As St. Angela of Foligno heard from Jesus, “Make of yourself a capacity, and I will make Myself a torrent.”
Silence makes room for the Holy Spirit to pray from deep within us, in ways no words of our own could express. (Rm. 8:26)
Our faith teaches, us that love is in the will. This type of prayer is an expression of love, based on keeping the will in our awareness of the Lord’s presence.
As St. Teresa of Avila said, “The Lord is within us, and we should not leave Him there alone.” We need silence to go within ourselves and find there the Lord, the “Friend who we know loves us.” (St. Teresa) If we are sitting with our Friend, we should give Him our full attention, a listening heart, and eye contact, so to speak; perhaps more accurately, here, we give the Lord “heart contact.” To pray in silence is to communicate by love alone.
God is the God of peace. Therefore, once you become practiced in taking some quiet time with Him each day, you will both be more at peace. You may even feel that peacefulness right away.
Truly, I have set my soul in silence and in peace, like a little child in its mother’s arms…
(from Psalm 130)
A praying couple of faith already has Jesus in their midst, in a special way. (Mt. 18:20)
A Christian couple represents the life giving love of the Trinity, and of Christ and His Bride, the Church. When a couple of faith prays in unity, they are more than symbols, they are open channels for God’s grace to pour into the world and into the Church.
God loves us to be in unity, and blesses our prayer together, making it so much more than we can imagine it could be, blessing us, blessing, through our unity and prayer, every soul on earth.
For in the love of Jesus there is your help. Love is so powerful that it makes everything one. ~The Cloud of Unknowing
In prayer you become one with the source of our true light – Jesus Himself. ~ St. John Paul II
“Love one another, as I have loved you.” (Jn. 13:34) One way Jesus loves us constantly is by His humble physical and spiritual presence in the Eucharist, always available to us.
We know He is at our side continuously through life.
In praying in united, loving awareness of God as a couple, we are intentionally and profoundly present to one another, and to God.
How good and pleasant it is
when God’s people live together in unity!
… It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the Lord bestows his blessing,
even life forevermore. ~ from Psalm 133
Sometimes praying together in quiet can bring about the necessary changes of heart each one needs, and even resolution to conflict. I think that is because where the Spirit of the Lord is, the spirit of strife cannot exist. Silent surrender puts us on God’s agenda, rather than our own. It helps us see the Lord of Love in one another and certainly in ourselves.
The benefits of prayer grow over time. In the practice of mental prayer, one prepares the soil, but it is God who mysteriously plants and cares for the seeds, gives them life, makes them grow into what pleases Him most. Prayer overflows into daily life, and we will notice one day how much we are growing in love of one another and of God.
We will begin to find we have more patience, peace, and clarity, more love, more grounded-ness in God.
Attentiveness to God is transformative because He is the One Who makes all things new: each heart, each couple, even the whole world.
And we will be beautiful, we will be Jesus, we will be love, because God continually converts humble, silent, open hearts to Himself, and to one another, forever.
And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Cor. 3:18)
**For further reading, and other types of inner prayer to try, you might like some other posts of mine:
*Prayer apps to try:
Spiritual Me, Master’s Edition, Fun to do together. A short series of brief, calming activities, a Scripture verse to ponder, and opportunities for silent prayer of 1-5 minutes or so, your choice.
The Daughters of St. Paul have a Beginning Contemplative Prayer app that guides you in the practice of mental prayer step by step and helps you develop the practice in your daily life. Very nice.