Practicing Prayer of the Heart

blog practice prayer spiritual practice Oct 05, 2022

Blog by Alan Fadling

There are many ways to pray other than speaking aloud to God, what we might call “verbal prayer.” Many Christian spiritual teachers have also spoken about the practice of “mental prayer,” which is a way of being prayerfully present to God in our thoughts and emotions. It is an inward form of prayer.


Some time back I came across this helpful counsel while reading a book on prayer by Henri Caffarel, whose work mostly centered around youth and family spirituality:


So when we have trouble getting our mental prayer started, it is a good idea to "try" successively some thoughts or attitudes of soul that have helped us to pray during an earlier period of mental prayer. If none of these awakens a response or a feeling of peace in us, we will remain unstable, as it were, more or less anxious. We have to keep searching, knowing that our very effort is already pleasing to God.*


Simply making the effort to enter into quiet prayer is itself prayer. Prayer is mostly a matter of my intentions and the orientation of my heart toward God. Perhaps I’ve found something helpful in the past—reading a brief passage of scripture or a meaningful spiritual book, or sitting in silence for a few minutes. It makes sense to try these again, whether or not it seems to help this time. Even if it doesn’t help, God sees my desire in action. God knows my longing for him. God also knows my weakness, my scattered thoughts, and my unfocused will.


In any prayer, inner peace is a good measure of whether we’ve actually entered into a place of communion with God. This is a peace that supersedes our comprehension. It’s a peace that runs deeper than our ability to explain. It’s a peace that meets us within anxious circumstances.


Sometimes I’m tempted to give up prayer of the heart if my seeking is not quickly rewarded with the peace for which I hope. I must wait amid my felt worries, distractions, spinning thoughts, and other discomforts. This is facing reality. And reality is where prayer happens. Prayer cannot abide in a fantasy. Prayer doesn’t flourish in my escape modes. Prayer is engagement with God in whatever approach I take. Any moment can be a moment of prayer if I am willing and intentional.


For Reflection:

  • Have you tried praying in quiet, pointing your heart and mind toward God? What has that experience been like for you? If this practice is a new one for you, would you like to try it? When and where might you experiment with this way of being with God? What might be a good way of beginning, drawing from some of the ideas above?


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*Rev. Henri Caffarel, Being Present to God: Letters on Prayer, trans. Angeline Bouchard (New York: Alba House, 1983), p. 18.




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