In the last article, we discussed how the spiritual life is about becoming agape; becoming selfless. How does one achieve this objective? First, we must understand that the work of becoming agape is the job of the Holy Spirit. However, because the Holy Spirit will not work without our consent, we must participate in the process.
How do we consent to the work of the Holy Spirit? Well, the first step is prayer. There are many forms of prayer, and all forms are required for the journey. The first part of this journey begins with vocal prayer. We must ask the Holy Spirit to make us holy, to make us agape. We must ask him to open our hearts to his work.
The next stage of prayer is mental prayer, which is also called meditation. Here, I am using the word meditation in a very broad sense. There are many forms of mental prayer that fall within this category. To explain the difference between vocal and mental prayer, I would use the concept of conversation. In vocal prayer, we monologue with God. We tell him our wants, our needs. We offer him thanks and praise. In mental prayer, we begin to dialogue with God. In addition, we use our cognitive skills and our imagination. The best forms of mental prayer are rooted in biblical studies, because we are in dialogue with the word of God. However, many people have found fruit in studying the lives of the Saints, treatises on various aspects of Christianity, and the like.
Mental prayer can be accomplished in several ways, and I will describe here the two most commonly used forms. The first of these is Lectio Divina. In Lectio, one invites the Holy Spirit into this prayer, opens the Bible and starts to read. Try not to get too caught up in worry about where to being. You can start in the beginning with Matthew, choose your favorite book, or just open the bible and start reading. Old Testament passages are great, too, but I recommend starting with the words of Jesus. I started with the daily readings for mass. This took the guess work out of it, and if I stayed with the reading long enough, I always found fruit.
The objective is to identify where the Holy Spirit is working; to find the word or phrase that resonates. When one finds this word or phrase, one stops, and like Mary, ponders these things in one’s heart. Lk 2:19. It is hard to describe this state of pondering. It can be sitting in silence while repeating the word or phrase. It can be asking questions about the word or phrase. Keep in mind that the goal of mental prayer is silent prayer (where God monologues in us). So, if you choose the latter, try and tag on several minutes of silence. I will describe silent prayer in more detail as this series develops.
The second method is the more traditional form of meditation where one picks a story in the bible, and uses one’s imagination to enter into the story, and, just as with Lectio Divina, one looks for where the Holy Spirit is working. Be open to the idea of exploring inanimate objects. I once heard of a great prayer experience when someone pondered the cloth Jesus used to wash the disciples’ feet, and I once found myself in the rubble of Jerusalem after the first temple was destroyed.
When we pray with scripture in the company of the Holy Spirit, the word of God comes alive, strengthens our faith, and leads us to the deeper gifts of knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. When we encounter the Holy Spirit in prayer, our love of God cannot help but be expanded, and our desire to serve him also grows. Every expert on prayer that I have studied said beginners should commit at least 20 minutes per day to this form of prayer. As one learn the joy of more fully living life in the Spirit, one’s commitment will likely increase as time goes on; however, according to those who have engaged in this process, this increased commitment is something that comes naturally and joyfully.
Remember that the goal becoming agape is selflessness. You will likely find resistance to prayer, but know that the sacrifice of committing to prayer when you don’t want to pray is a great way of shedding selfishness.
Spend some time with the Holy Sprit reading scripture. Ask him to help you be open to how he leads you in mental prayer. Ask him to help you hear the dialogue so you can enter into the conversation with him. Spend some time setting out commitments for daily mental prayer, and contributing to the process of becoming agape.