The Practice of Prayer of the Heart
In the Christian tradition this practice of uniting ourselves with the inner Life of Christ in prayer word and breath comes to us from the desert fathers and mothers of early Christianity. We know this practice as the Prayer of the Heart. Over time for many in Eastern Christianity the form of the Prayer of the Heart most commonly known was the Jesus Prayer. Various forms of the Jesus prayer have been used through the centuries, but the simplest and most easily aligned with the breath is the holy name of Jesus or Yeshua. To breathe Yeshua is to continually say "yes" to receive Him, and to say "yes" to our self-gift of Love in the offering to Him of our own life and humanity. I breathe in Yeshua; I breathe out Yeshua. I breathe in the gift of God's Life; I breathe out in offering the gift of my own life in God. In my breath I sink into and abide in communion in the Heart of Christ.
The Guidelines of Formal Prayer of the Heart Practice:
1. Setting- Set aside a sacred space where you are not likely to be interrupted, a place consecrated to your desire for communion with Christ.
2. Time- Choose a time which is most conducive to silent prayer, when you are alert and not likely to be interrupted. For most that is early morning and early evening.
3. Body Posture- Sit with a straight back, where minimal effort is required to sit straight and be alert. For some a chair is best, for others, a prayer bench or cushion. Let the hands be folded in your lap, or resting on the thighs upward or facing down.
4. Breath- Breathing should be relaxed not forced. We should let it be deep and abdominal, relaxing the tensions in the chest and abdomen. Let the out-breath be released slowly.
5. Preparation- Choose a short prayer phrase of consecration to prepare for your entry into silence: “O Christ, I give myself completely to you.” “O Yeshua, You are my Refuge.”
6. Length of Prayer Session- 25-30 minutes is best with walking contemplation in between more than one session. Allow for a gentle transition from the prayer session, usually with a spoken vow of practice and devotional prayers or lectio divina.
1. Prayer Word- Choose a word, which touches you and which expresses best your desire to be one with Christ. It may be a word or phrase. For many the fitting prayer word is the name of Jesus, Yeshua, or a form of the Jesus prayer ("Lord Jesus, have mercy"). Repeat it continuously, returning to the prayer word synchronized with your breath. If it is more than one syllable or word, then synchronize the repeating of the word or phrase with the in-breath and out-breath. Let this prayer word or phrase be the anchor of returning to your single desire for communion with Christ.
2. Observing the Mind- Abiding in the Heart of Christ- Observe the arising of thoughts, and release from all the traffic of the mind, thoughts, desires, commentaries, judgments. Observe them arise and release them while you return to abiding in the Heart in your prayer word and breath. Continually release from involvement with thoughts and return to your holy word. Continually "release and return," to be present to Yeshua in loving attention and self-offering, through the anchor of your word or phrase. It is an ongoing process of “release and return” in the natural rhythm of your breathing. In this process we become increasingly absorbed in the Heart of Christ in our own heart, in the interior movements of presence and self-offering in love.
Summary of Guidelines and Method:
Over time we cultivate a capacity, not to stop thought and emotion, but to release from them, and abide in an interior communion in the Heart of Christ that is beneath and beyond the mind and its activity. We come to experience that we have thoughts, but we are not our thoughts. We have a freedom to find our refuge in the Heart of Christ alone, whether in our silent prayer practice, or whether in the ceaseless prayer of daily life and activity. We come to know that our true home is the Heart of Christ, the Kingdom of God within us.