Below is an email exchange with a reader. He’s given permission to post these notes. I thought it would be helpful for you to hear about another reader’s journey into the prayer of the heart . . .
I write to say “thank you” for the encouragement I have received from your honest reflections in the downloadable eBook Returning to the Center. I sincerely hope that part 2 is available before too long. Is the entire book available anywhere? I have, so far, been unsuccessful in my web-searches I arrived at your website, and the above eBook, after reading comments about you and your work in Alan Roxburgh’s book Missional Map-Making and found that your writing spoke directly to the kind of journey I seem to be making at present. It is a journey into prayer of the heart – and I am experiencing all the many distractions, of which you speak.
Thank you for your thoughtful note. Alas, part two is on hold for quite awhile. I’m working on another book on prayer now. Part two of my memoir requires some maturing before I can write honestly about the years since the first part ended. It’ll be out someday, but not soon enough for you. My advice is to simply practice the Jesus Prayer. That sounds so terribly unhelpful, I realize. There are several books that you might find helpful. Here’s a little list: Prayer in the Cave of the Heart, Cyprian Consiglio; Word Into Silence, John Main; The Cloud of Unknowing with the Book of Privy Counsel, a new translation by Carmen Aceveo Butcher (soooo excellent!); John Main: The Expanding Vision, ed. by Laurence Freeman and Stefan Reynolds, Prayer, Abhishiktananda.
The key is to simply practice what you know. Too many of us spend too much time reading and casting around for help when the help is as near as the beating of our hearts, close as our next breath. The ego doesn’t want to admit that though and will keep disturbing you. Your chief work is to simply learn to step around the ego through contemplative practice. It’ll learn to relax and “stand down” eventually. But it must learn, first that your serious and second, that stepping around it (the ego) isn’t about its destruction, but its salvation. The recitation of the Name, along with the breath, will bath your ego in love and over the long haul it’ll learn to trust that it doesn’t always have to be in charge [smile].
Blessings your life and ministry, brother.
I have simply devoured your eBook. In my imagination, and feeling similarly spread rather too thinly like butter over toast (wonderful metaphor!), I accompanied you to the Wadi Natroun, to Iona, and finally Oxford; each places of great significance and interest to me. I have not yet read Merton, though I am aware of him through other writers. I am learning from your journey that the spiritual journey is a shared one, even though the physical one may never be a reality for me. You reiterated in your email that the key was realizing that the answers were as close as “the beating of our hearts, close as our next breath.” And you are so right about the ego, with its clamouring voices, as one intentionally sets about cultivating contemplative practices. This is precisely my experience too.
Regards, and God bless you.