Between the development of prayer and the elevation of souls, there exists an assured connection, universally admitted, which is essential. In being raised up, the soul arrives at regions untouched by the agitation of transitory things. All movement ceases or grows less.
This is where prayer flourishes — that prayer which is a devout upsurge of love, which draws us toward God, who is unceasingly inclined toward us. His Spirit enfolds us, penetrates us, descends into our depths, and says, “My son. . . .” Then, returning from the depths of our being, which he turns back to its Source, he answers for us: “Father.” There is no greater or more profound moment, no higher activity possible.
In a soul praying thus, certain dispositions are necessary, requiring long exercise and sustained effort. Our sensitiveness, distorted as a result of the Fall, rebels. It alternates between mad outbreaks and periods of discouragement. It does not want to take up its role of servant; it wants to be its own master, to follow its own caprices. And so it resists. Any opposition infuriates it. The more we try to discipline it, the more it throws off all restraint and goes mad. We have to re-orientate it, restore it to its proper place, which is that of a servant — useful but submissive. The wrecked harmony of the fine human edifice that God made must be reestablished. We do not realize enough that He alone can do this. The absolute necessity for His aid is about the last idea to enter into our heads and persuade us to turn to Him. We spend the whole of our lives trying to sanctify ourselves without His help, and we are convinced that we can manage it of ourselves.
Properly understood and well carried out, prayer restores us to our position as a creature receiving all from the Creator. Without His aid we are not only weak, but completely helpless. Now we see clearly again and unmistakably; we see what we have to do, and we can do it, for God who is Truth is in us, and He is giving Himself. Hitherto, we were in our nothingness and were content to remain there. The soul that prays might still be far from perfect, but it is on its way and it will arrive at perfection. It is united with the Source who will give it that perfection. It will welcome the knowledge of what it should do moment by moment. It follows a way that is sure, for this way is also the end. The soul is both traveling to that end and has at the same time arrived at it. God Himself prays in that soul, leads it to Him, and already gives Himself to it.
Prayer proceeds from union; it seeks it and attains it. God is continually making us ask for what He wants to give us, and He gives what He makes us ask for. Then He inscribes this movement in His Book of Life; the angels record it and, delighted, treasure every single note of it. They seize them before the lips utter them, sometimes barely or badly formed, seeing only the right intention or the frailty which is our excuse. “Prayer,” says St. Augustine, “serves the needs of souls, and draws down the help they seek; delights the angels, infuriates Hell, and is to God a sacrifice that cannot but be pleasing to Him. It is the crowning point of religion, the unspoilt praise, the perfect glory, and the source of the most assured hope.”
How is it possible to prefer vain discourses, wasted hours, stupid amusements, and pointless dreams to such joy, such a treasure, and so great an honor? God is there. He awaits us, He calls us; He offers us enlightenment for our mind, strength for our will, unspeakable joys for our sensitive nature, and priceless treasures for ourselves and others. And we turn our backs on Him!
We have our excuse, it is true — it is His very love, ceaselessly offering itself and apparently eager to give itself. But the gift of oneself appears degrading only to sordid souls. Noble souls know that this love He offers us is the truth and the life, and they love to be held by this Love, who reveals Himself and, in doing, so gives Himself.
Meet God in the silence of your soul
We have to accustom ourselves to pray in all places as at all times. The real place to pray in is the soul, for God dwells there. If we wish to obey our Lord’s counsel, when we pray we should enter the chamber of our soul, close the door, and speak to the Father, whose loving eyes seek ever our own. This inner chamber of our soul is the true temple, the sacred sanctuary, and we carry it with us and can at any time either remain there or quickly return to it, should we have been obliged to leave it.
And we must make it a really spotless and beautiful place. Its true beauty, of course, is our Lord’s presence. In it He should be able to feel at home, and He is at home if He sees His own features there. These features are His perfections, and when they are reflected in the soul, they are called virtues. The soul that possesses them is beautiful with His beauty; it is perfect “as our heavenly Father is perfect.” The as here does not mean “as much”; it does not imply equality but resemblance. By the virtues we are reformed in God’s image, and in the image of His divine Son, who came to reveal His Father’s features to us, by practicing the virtues.
In this reserved sanctuary — a new heaven and kingdom of God — solitude and silence must reign. God is alone with Himself. The divine Persons do not affect this solitude; they constitute it. The Love who is their animating force encloses them against all that is not Himself. The City of God is immense, but enclosed. God alone occupies it, and He is All in all. The soul that prays must reproduce this solitude; it must be filled by it to the exclusion of all else. The very colloquy that follows is a kind of silence.
Speech and silence are not opposed; they do not exclude one another. What is opposed to silence is not speech but words — that is, multiplicity. We confuse the silence of being with the silence of “nothingness,” which knows neither how to speak nor how to be silent. All that it can do is to become agitated, and then it dissembles. And it does this by its superficial movements reflecting the nothingness within it. Lip service, which has no deep thought to support it; physical posturings; facial expressions with no corresponding reality or that flatly deceive — such is the language of “nothingness.”
And that is why it is garrulous. It says little in many words; or it uses words that do not say what it thinks. God needed only one Word to express Himself fully, and it is toward that unity (of the Word) that we tend when we are alone with God. He has become all, and we tell Him so — what more can we say? It is the silence of the soul recollected in itself and occupied with Him whom it finds there. It is the silence of those long nights that Jesus passed on the mountainside during His prayer to God. It was the silence of Gethsemane or of Calvary, broken only by a few words for us.
Churches are places for prayer in common. They must reproduce God’s features and those of souls that need the body to express themselves. They must offer to the body lines that run upward toward Heaven or fade away in the mystery of a semidarkness.
They must isolate the building from the world and its noises, and form a central point around which everything tends to draw the soul’s powers, to concentrate and unify them and evoke our love. They must reveal beauties that are altogether beyond us; they must give us a peace that does not come from created things but draws us above them. They must create a great harmony of the natural and the supernatural, in which He who has made both matter and spirit is revealed.
His presence shines through, and His love draws us. We must breathe Him through the very pores of our being, just as we breathe the air. A place of worship that does not evoke this response, and the soul that, on entering it, does not respond to that appeal are not true to themselves and deceive others.
Editor’s note: This article is adapted from a chapter in Dom Guillerand’s The Prayer of the Presence of God. It is is available as an ebook or paperback from your favorite bookseller or online through Sophia Institute Press.