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Introduction Breathe in the Name -
Thing on the Heart Prayer

Fr Maksymilian Nawara OSB
A believer does not have to be convinced about the necessity of prayer. Not only because he has heard hundreds of times about the need to pray, but also because, more or less, he feels that prayer is a basic need of the human heart You can respond to this need occasionally: when "things are wrong" or "when things are right". Or, you can decide that "I want to pray" no matter what. However, there is often a problem - "I want to, but I don't really know how". We associate prayer with something tedious, difficult and even boring.

Meeting God very often reflects our lives. In life, we have so many different, very important things to do, so much we have to achieve and work out. We would like to do the same in prayer. According to the principle: “The more the better”, we multiply external forms, with a focus on a specific profit. What should I do so that the prayer does not count the following formulas, but becomes an integral part of me? How can I make prayer permeate my life? This issue bothered Christians just from the very beginning. That’s why St. Paul, in the Thessalonians, calls on Christians to pray constantly (cf. Tes 5, 17). But what does it mean? Many monks and many lay people could not find the right answer for these questions. In the end, specific ‘spiritual practice’ came in as the answer.

Repeated prayer

Reading the Holy Scripture (lectio divina) was and still is essential spiritual practice of monks. However, it was not ‘reading’ we understand today. Today, when we read, we chew the words over, deliberate them, and look for their meaning. It seems to us that the more things we are able to think of in our reading, the better it is. For Desert Fathers, reading was more like being with the Word of God, chewing the Word rather than thinking about It. Hence, they learned many Scriptures fragments by heart and just repeated them. By repeating, they allowed the Word to dwell within themselves. They soak the Word as a sponge soaks water. These fragments naturally shortened. Over time, they began to take the form of single- or supra-sentential short prayers – today we would call them aspiration prayer. This is how the one-sentence (monological) prayer was born. Formula (one sentence or expression) became a refrain that was repeated throughout the day. But it wasn’t about mechanical repetition, but rather about the ‘Heart Prayer’. It was not about reflection and analysis, but rather about being before God, about focusing completely on One – God alone. The monks looked for sentences in the Scriptures that constituted a prayer just by themselves. For example, the words of Tax-Collector: ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner’ (Luke 18:13), or those of the blind beggar from Jericho: Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me! (Mark 10:47). These words gradually took the form of the formula of the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner” or “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me”. There were many repeated formulas, but in a very short time it was Jesus Prayer Formula that gained the greatest popularity. St. John Cassian, a monk who in the fourth century spent many years in Egypt hermitages – where he took over from the Desert Fathers the tradition of monological prayer (‘one word prayer’), to pass it on later to the monks of the West – this is how he summarizes his teaching on meditation: Let the soul constantly stick to a very short formula, until strengthened by its continuant and sustained meditation, it will give up rich and extensive thoughts and it will agree to poverty, limiting itself to one verse… where the mind is no longer concerned with imagination forms, In this way our soul will come to flawless prayer where the mind is no longer concerned with imagination forms, it doesn’t even pronounce words loudly, it does not stop at the meaning of words, but where the heart burns with fire, it is full of ineffable delight, and in the spirit there is an insatiable desire. (John Cassian, Rozmowy z Ojcami, Źródła monastyczne 28, wyd. Tyniec, Krakow 2002, p. 437 and 440). And St. John Climacus preached: Let the memory of Jesus merge with your every breath. For as a drop of water cuts a stone, not by the force of the blow, but by the frequency of its falling, so the prayer penetrates the heart. In attentiveness to the word of prayer, to presence, to constantly returning to the call and constantly starting from the beginning, the body posture helps a lot.

Breathe and a straight spine

Breathing is so natural that we ignore it. However, it is true that each person once took their first breath, which meant entering this world, just received life from God. Every time someone inhales the air, he receives this gift of life again. At the end of the earthly course, the final exhalation will take place, which will be equal to the dedication of life to God. So you can say that life is breath. On the other hand, “name” in the Judeo-Christian tradition means “presence”. To know someone by name is to know his essence, the essence of a person. That is why Moses asked God’s name, and therefore the name in many places of Scripture is mysterious, and the second commandment sounds: You shall not take the Name of Lord your God in vain. So let the memory of Jesus’ Name be present in our every breath. Every time we inhale air, we receive the breath of life. We stand in the presence of God. We receive. When we exhale, we give back to the Lord everything that is in us, simply speaking: “Have mercy on me”. Using the formula of the Jesus Prayer as an example, we can say that the monologue prayer has two parts: inhale (call) – Lord Jesus Christ (Son of God); exhale (confession) – have mercy on me (a sinner). But that’s not all. It is difficult to maintain due attention to prayer when, for example, a person is sitting in a comfortable armchair or chair. We ourselves experience that it often ends in a nap or daydreaming. Meanwhile, for the Desert Fathers, prayer (proseuche) and attention (prosoche) are inextricably linked. Posture with a straight spine, chair without backrest, small prayer chair or a pillow turn out to be a great help here in maintaining attention. So we sit down and gently combine prayer and breath, just constantly returning to the present moment by repeating the chosen formula over and over again. And then thoughts arise. We experience it after just a few minutes. Our mind travels in thousands of directions, and we follow it. We travel to the future, we return to the past. We are like disciples on the road to Emmaus. They were talking with each other about everything “that had happened” and pondering “what will happen”. As a result, they are absent, beyond the present moment, and do not recognize the Lord who is walking with them. If we notice that we are thinking about what we have seen or heard, or we are making plans for the future, ours or someone else’s, or waiting for the prayer to end – we simply return gently to the prayer formula. We are not looking for deep intellectual insights or anything extraordinary. The Core and everything is Jesus – the only One “always and fully Present”.

Simplicity and poverty

The formula is like an anchor that anchors us in the present moment. God is in the present moment. He is not in the future, nor in the past. He is here, now and wants to be with us right here and right now. The more we go back to the formula, the longer whiles we stay watchful and focused. It’s like drops falling on a rock. This meditation is a simple, poor prayer which is about the presence of man before the One Who Is. Our acceptance of the “poverty” of means of expression in prayer, recommended by the Desert Fathers, can become a sign of willingness to give back control over our lives and total entrusting ourselves to God, about which each of us can say: Lord, you have seen what is in my heart. You know all about me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up (…). Lord, even before I speak a word, you know all about it (Ps 139). When we return constantly to formula, give up our plans, fantasies, our ideas, our time, we give our lives to God. Second by second. A properly practiced Christian prayer is intended to ensure that He must increase and I must decrease (John 3:30).

Meditation for everyone?

Christian meditation, in this way, is the simplest form of contemplative prayer, introducing the meditating person into the state of being before God, without thoughts and visions. The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls it, for St. John of the Cross, “Prayer of Silent Love”, pointing out that in this kind of prayer ‘words are not of discursive character, but rather like sparks, are starting the fire of love’ (CCC 2717). This tradition of Christian meditation, passed down for almost two millennia mainly in monasteries, after the Second Vatican Council was also assimilated by the prayer movements of lay people. Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, in his letter “On certain aspects of Christian meditation”, pointed out that Christian meditation is a form of prayer which in recent years has attracted increasing interest (…). Today, many Christians fervently wish to learn authentic and in-depth prayer, although modern culture makes it extremely difficult to meet their perceived need for silence, focus and meditation. Like in response to this need, there has been a Christian Meditation Centre ( in the Benedictine monastery in Lubiń for 20 years, where the practice of this form of prayer is conveyed. Every month, the monastery organizes three-day meditation sessions, which gather about 30 people each time. Participants, while remaining silent, share their time into prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours with monks, about five hours of meditation per day, and about two hours of physical work. From experience of common meditations in Lubiń Monastery, the Lubiń Community of Christian Meditation Groups grew up. It brings together meditation groups from all over Poland, currently functioning in more than a dozen cities, for a regular common practice of prayer in silence. In addition, there is also a World Christian Meditation Community (WCCM) in Poland, run by Fr. Laurence Freeman OSB (look here

Many ways

St. Basil the Great wrote: Seek God and call Him with all your heart and you will find Him. There are many opportunities to meet God – the Jesus Prayer is just one of them. The key to discovering your own way is to discern what kind of prayer you are called to do. I am deeply convinced that God calls us not only to prayer in general, but to its specific form. Some people discover their way in charismatic movements, the others in the rosary, yet others in meditation, and still others in the form of meditation, briefly described here. If you want to pray and keep looking for “your” way, maybe Christian meditation is the answer. If you have already discovered “your” own prayer – persevere! Even if we do not know how to pray properly, the Holy Spirit contributes to us with implications that cannot be expressed in words (Rom 8:26). He is that one who gives us the gift of constant prayer. We should “only” persevere with it.

Fr Maksymilian Nawara OSB