A Word Hidden In The Heart
Here at the Monastery, we have the custom of each Sister taking a turn at planning the liturgy for the day. In the process, we have found that the designated Sister often spends many hours beforehand, meditating on the theme of the particular liturgy.
Recently, the Reading chosen for Morning Praise was taken from The Cloud of Unknowing (pp.133-34 ,#1). In this particular selection, the author of The Cloud explains that a simple “reaching out” toward God is sufficient, and that a person need not have any other reason for “reaching out” except to be in contact with, and to experience God. The writer suggests that we wrap and enfold this “reaching out” in a single word, like the word “God” or the word “love. For myself, there are times when I find a short phrase to be more helpful than a single word. Eventually though, I do think that the holy invocation gradually becomes just one word.
We know that saints in the past have prayed this way. For example, St Francis of Assisi used to spend the night on his knees simply repeating the acclamation: “My God and My All.” At other times, Francis had a longer invocation: “O God, who are you? Who am I?” And then, there is the familiar one: “Go rebuild my church.” There is another saint, Teresa of Avila. I like to think that St. Teresa, herself, at times used this approach to prayer. She was known as “St. Teresa of Jesus”. One day, the Lord came to her in prayer and referred to himself as “Jesus of Teresa”. What a blessing! From then on, Jesus would want what Teresa wanted. This almost seems too good to be true.
The author of The Cloud suggests that we fasten this word upon our hearts in such a way that no matters what happens, the word will be with us, especially when we need it most. This word will be a shield, a haven, and a source of strength and comfort. Such a word is also fortifying and calming. I recall my grandmother and my aunts, and the Sisters in school, teaching us this way of praying. Later, when I was studying to be a Sister, myself, we were taught that the aim of any prayer was to move the heart. Our instructors pointed out that these small invocations could emerge.
As I reflected on this sharing, I became aware that there are many little phrases that can be used for prayer throughout the day, phrases that move the heart and bear us up when we need it. For example, there is that of Julian of Norwich: “All shall be well.” There are also many sayings in Scripture such as: “Be not afraid.” – “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” – “Peace I leave with you.” And, of course, there is that very familiar invocation of longing we use at Christmas: “Come, Lord Jesus.” The one-word acclamation connected with this prayer would be “Maranatha”.
We have found that sometimes God simply gives us a short invocation which is specifically for us. For some reason, a saying just seems to come to us. When this happens, one can only give thanks. One way, to help bring this about, is to ask God for a sacred saying right before we fall asleep at night, and to be alert when we first awake. It seems like God is always looking for a way to be with us.
Sister Mary Jo Loebig, O.C.D