The main problem at the beginning of the prayer in silence is what is happening in our head that has nothing to do with the prayer. In the professional jargon we speak about distractions. This is the stage during we find it difficult to say anything to God, rationally explain His mysteries or meditate biblical scenes. It is even difficult to pray the Rosary.
We have experienced the presence of living God and we desire it. Because we have experienced it we decide to devote our time to Him in silence, to remain in front of Him waiting for His presence to overwhelm us again. We desire and this desire is a grace from God, it is not ours. What does it look like in practice? We sit or kneel in front of God, or Jesus, in a very religious manner, but nothing happens and our mind starts filling with completely unrelated thoughts. We start thinking about our home, work, children, duties, we suddenly remember that we had to do something and we look at the watch nervously. We feel as if we were on a bus, or in some other situations when we can switch off our attention, usually absorbed by various chores. Thoughts ‘fly’ without any order, get mixed, just like before we fall asleep. Maybe for a moment we lose consciousness. And then unpleasant awakening – I am during the adoration! There is Jesus and I am thinking about my unpaid bills! I feel ashamed. We try to involve our will, feelings and start to pray properly. (…). A moment of inattention and then we ‘fly away’ again. We begin to have doubts – does it make any sense, may it is better to go home? Am I not offending God thinking about clothes or completely forgetting about Him and having ill thoughts about others in front of the Most Holy Sacrament? How many women cook in church – they think about the menu for the next day, about shopping that needs to be done on the way back home, or what to have for dinner, as it is more difficult to decide what to cook than cook itself. We try to focus but it doesn’t work. This stage of prayer is the most frustrating of all. We feel humiliated and discouraged, and most of all it is simply tiring to come back to God in our thoughts for the 20th time in an hour. We experience our nothingness, the fact that we are ash and we will never reach Him. What shall we do then? There is only one thing – persevere. We have to understand that if we endure this stage the next one will be better. We should not worry about the thoughts, even the most distant ones, as in this case the thoughts and feelings are helpless. We have to let them sound, let them fly like flies around our head. But we should not deal with them, although at the beginning it seems impossible. But it is possible. Bill Clark, an American Jesuit, running retreats for the “Arc” ( a community established by Jean Vanier where volunteers live with the disabled), once gave an example of a woman who ‘was cooking’ during her prayers. She had a lot of children, she was permanently tired and although her mind ‘was cooking’, her heart was united with God. There was so much love in her house and she reached the stage of very deep prayers.
Everything that we can do at this stage is ‘to look for the interior’. Despite ‘flying’ thoughts we need to throw ourselves into our interior believing that God is waiting for us there. The prayer of the heart (interior prayer), including adoration, bases of the belief that God is the very core of our soul. Adoration facilitates the process of leaving our thoughts and feelings. The Most Holy Sacrament creates a space of prayer, but the dwelling of the heart needs to be stripped in the same way.
Love, faith and time
We have already said that this stage is the most frustrating one. It is called purification, purification of senses. The only power that makes it possible to go through this stage is love and faith associated with it. We remain in prayer, although it is troublesome. We remain in prayer because we love this mysterious Person who has already revealed Himself and has revolutionised our life in such a short time. We want to do something for Him, we want to be with Him, we feel attracted by Him, and this is what is really happening. It is good to remember this especially at times when prayer becomes difficult – the only thing that we can give God then is this selflessly wasted time. Of course, we can serve God by serving our neighbours, but the only way to contact Him on Earth is through prayer. God clears our intentions. He looks at us and sees whether we are ready to stand by His side even when it is not nice. That is why He removes nice feelings and impressions.
If we love Him with His love, then we will stay. Faith is decisive at this stage. First of all, because although we do not feel His presence, he is close. Secondly, He not only IS in our soul but He acts there. Thirdly, His actions are beneficial for us and for others. So, if we believe in His presence although we do not feel it we can do wonders. When Little Theresa believed in this truth she grew to admire it. She decided not to ask God for consolation any more. She wanted to remain in coldness to please God with her faith and to show Him in this way how much she loved Him. Faustyna Kowalska was used to seeing Jesus. Very often, He would appear during a mass or adoration. However, in August 1937, He stopped appearing for some time and as a result she suffered a great deal. When she finally saw Him, He said:
“My daughter, the weeks when you neither saw Me nor felt My presence, I was more profoundly united to you that at times when you experienced ecstasy. And the faithfulness and fragrance of your prayer have reached Me”.
So each time when distractions give us a short moment of the presence of mind, we can perform a very conscious act of faith in this mysterious closeness. With the boldness of faith we can understand this darkness as a sign. After some time, we will grow to like these acts of faith. We will notice that thanks to them a new internal space is created and we are learning to meet God in our faith. We start maybe not so much to see in darkness but sense that this kind of seeing is possible. Our internal eye gets used to darkness, to the fact that it does not have to feel or understand anything, and that faith is a new sense of feeling in contemplation. At the same time, we start experiencing new, previously unknown, happiness.
The Jesus Prayer has numerous analogies to the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament.
In the Jesus Prayer the place of the Most Holy Sacrament is taken by the Name of Jesus.
We might say that the Jesus Prayer is the adoration of the Name of Jesus or in other words the adoration of the God’s presence in the Name of Jesus. In both cases, we remain believing that God is present among us and that He comes to us and acts in the depths of our heart. Senses are helpless here. Eyes do not see anything but bread. Ears do not hear anything but the Word-Name. Is it not, however, difficult to understand. Why can Almighty God, who is the Spirit, not conquer a piece of matter, transform it and unite with it in His presence? We can distinguish between an irradiated item from a non-irradiated one. We cannot see the radiation but it is real and we can feel its results.
Listen to the description of the spiritual process that is taking place during a systematic Adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament written by a Polish secular writer. It may be inspiring.