“And when you come before God, don't turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat?“Here's what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won't be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace. “The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They're full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. Don't fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need. With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply. Like this: [“Our father, our mother, our holy other…the Liturgists]” The Message Bible
Seclusion is the sacred space of prayer where we are alone with ourselves long enough to consider how the extrinsic trappings of our so-called sacred practices are in need of re-evaluation. When we separate from the familiar and predictable we begin to face our deep need for ongoing change and renewal. Prayer needs seclusion in order to retreat and slow long enough to find the new rhythm that an everyday faith routine needs.
Over the many years that I have contemplated the workings of prayer it has been the voices of my fellow mystics that have inspired and championed me on my interior journey of reflection. One of those spiritual heroes Henri Nouwen has been a voice of pertinent relevance as I had to navigate this difficult and ever-changing terrain. The following quotes have helped focus my attention and strengthen my internal resolve….
'The real work of prayer is to become silent and to listen to the voice that says good things about me. To gently push aside and silence the many voices that question my goodness and to trust that I will hear the voice of blessing - that demands real effort'. - Henri Nouwen
So much of our praying and divine entreaty is riddled with an historical religious piety that tries to impress God with a overly devout sincerity. So often my prayers have been attempts to convince the Almighty to act on behalf of my personal agenda or preferred outcome. This can bleed into the public arenas of corporate gatherings where our insecurities begin to compare and compete with our fellow pray-ers. The verbosity of my words has often distracted me from the listening that is required if we are to find the genuine place of contemplation. When we really learn to listen we actually start to reconfigure our words in line with what God really thinks of us, which is the real answer to prayer we need! The early Genesis story reminds us that we are innately ‘good’ and no matter what our behaviour suggests, we image something profoundly pleasing and special. Learning the art of prayer is about listening again to the ancient echo of this sovereign signature.
'If we don’t have a ‘hidden - secluded' life with God our public life for God cannot bear fruit'. - Henri Nouwen
Our public life is a reflection of our private or secluded world where our attachment to the mysterious ‘vine’ of sustenance resources our external practices. To bear fruit is the outflow of the very natural life giving energy that feeds our consciousness. It’s not a striving to try and do the right thing but a sacred trust that comes from the ancient traditions of spiritual interdependence. The practice of Prayer has been handed down to us through the lives of our ancestors who have offered us their wisdom and learnt practices as a foundational beginning point. The saints become our vicarious examples of confidence and courage to go deeper into the mystery of prayer as an unceasing thinking in dialogue with the divine.
'Prayer is not what is done by us, but rather what is done by the Holy Spirit in us'. -Henri Nouwen
We all start our prayer journey with fixed-set formulas and carefully arranged words which seek to express our prayerful intent, then along the way we begin to experience a hidden providence within this mystical practice. This universal spiritual language suddenly interrupts our consciousness, calling us to participate in the divine flow of care that sub-atomically guides us. Someone once described this experience as something likened to a ‘groan’, an utterance deeper than words or fashioned statements, the travail of the human soul reconnecting with God. To borrow a St Francisism, "Pray, and if you have to, use words".
Prayer is the ultimate point of connection and communication with God, and seclusion provides us with the space to distance ourselves from old dependencies and mundane ways of being, making room for new moments of intimacy.