Slowing Down and Using Prayer Words

I just wanted to make a few follow-up comments from my last post on cultivating interior silence. When we use a short prayer or verse to focus our minds, we need to approach this practice in the right way. In modern society, there is a tendency to rush, to do things quickly. When we read, perhaps we skim read. (Are you doing that now?) When we go for a walk, it’s brisk. We are not used to slowing down and taking our time, but in this practice of interior silence it is vital.

When we are reciting our prayer words, we need to be keeping an eye on ourselves, that we are not rushing it, that we are not trying to force something. It’s really not about how many times we can recite the prayer. It should be done slowly and peacefully. We need to keep in mind the wider perspective, that the aim is to slow our minds down, to calm the inner chatter, and to enter into rest in the presence of God. We are just using the prayer words to gently anchor our attention on God, so we are not carried away in thoughts.

What we are trying to depart from is busy mental activity, so we can go deeper with God, down into the heart. So we should be careful that our recitation doesn’t become busy mental activity itself. We want to be sinking down into silence and presence. If your recitation slows right down and even stops, that is fine. Rest in the silence. There is a letting go taking place. We are not trying too hard, to achieve something, or force something to happen. It is more about being than doing.

We want to become more present in this moment, not eager to move on somewhere else. This is something we can practice in daily life. We need to resist the anxiety that wants us to rush to the next thing, like we perpetually have ants in our pants. As St. Anthony, the desert father said, “wherever you live, do not easily leave it.” If we follow this advice throughout our day, it will help us when we do sit down for formal prayer.

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