Mental prayer, as defined in Wikipedia, is a form of prayer “whereby one loves God through dialogue, meditating on God’s words, and contemplation of his face. It is a time of silence focused on God.”
Note that I’ll be using the word ‘God’ throughout this post since it is true to the tradition of this form of prayer. But feel free to substitute your own preferred term for the Divine consciousness.
Saint Teresa of Avila (1515 to 1582) practiced and wrote about this form of prayer, calling it “nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us.”
Such a beautiful practice — “time alone with him who we know loves us.” An inward practice, for Saint Teresa looked within herself for God.
Saint Teresa’s writings reveal three elements essential to mental prayer. First, we must be seeking for God with all our love. Second, we must be willing to spend time alone with the Divine. And third, we must look on God as present within our soul.
Here I want to focus on the seeking.
Seeking the Divine
For me, as I believe for Saint Teresa, seeking the Divine is our first and most important purpose in life. This desire is of the heart, not of the head. Mental prayer requires great love.
As Saint Teresa puts it, “The important thing in mental prayer is not to think much but to love much.” It’s important for us to realize in this conversational exchange that God loves us as well.
We can talk comfortably with this God; there can be companionable silence with this God; we can share our innermost thoughts with this God.
We need have no fear. Mental prayer transports us beyond notions of judgment and punishment to a sacred space where there is only love. Great, unspeakably deep and tender and passionate and dispassionate, love.
In a world of unstoppable — sometimes it would seem headlong — change, God is the only constant. God’s love does not change through time. It is a love we can count on.
The image above, Bernini’s The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, illustrates the love between Saint Teresa and God in the best way we know how. It’s a gorgeous, amazing sculpture. With definite sensual, indeed sexual, undertones. But Divine love is more even than that.
God is our beloved, yes, but so much more. Mother, Father, Friend, Beloved, Guide. All rolled into one, and even then God’s love is so much more. And never flagging or failing. Even if we don’t return this love, God’s love for us remains true and pure.
Mental prayer provides a vehicle as it were for experiencing this boundless love. Once felt — in the heart, not conjured in the head — it’s impossible not to love the Divine to the best of our ability.
The first step is to seek. Seek truly the love of the Divine. Know that God’s love is not just some abstract and inscrutable “truth” to believe in because we were taught to do so. Know that God is, in Saint Teresa’s words, “a better prize than any earthly love.” God is precious and she resides within us. Within every living being.
To love God is to love yourself — and everyone else. Another Teresa, Mother Teresa, speaking of people generally, expresses this truth: “Each one of them is Jesus in disguise.” Love them all.
I would love to read your comments, to engage in a conversation with you. Please let me know your own thoughts on mental prayer, love, the Divine. Comment below or send me a personal communication. I look forward to hearing from you.