The last few weeks I have come across these verses several times in different contexts, "Come to me all who are weary; take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matt 11:29-30)
The literal translation of 'pray always' is 'come to rest'. The Greek word for 'rest' is hesychia. A hesychast is one who seeks solitude and silence as ways to unceasing prayer. The prayer of the hesychast is a prayer of rest - it has little to do with the absence of conflict or pain but rather is a rest in God in the midst of a very intense daily struggle.
Nouwen suggests that this kind of 'prayer of the heart' is not intellectual prayer (speaking to God, expecting answers and when we don't hear anything we begin to think of a monologue); it is also not just thinking about God (meditation) which may lead to new intellectual discoveries about God.
Rather, the prayer of the hesychast is one that takes us from our place of self-absorption to where it penetrates to the very marrow of our soul & leaves nothing untouched. It is prayer that does not allow us to limit our relationship with God to interesting words or pious emotions. (hmm... does this not sound like being careful with what we say & how much we say... perhaps a type of silence?) It opens our eyes to the truth of ourselves as well as to the truth of God. It challenges us to hide absolutely nothing from God and to surrender ourselves unconditionally to His mercy.
At this point, this is now a prayer of truth. No longer are we trying to impress others with our well-worded prayers; no longer are we trying to convince ourselves of our worthiness or our self-righteousness.
I'm not quite sure how all this works but somehow, this kind of purity of heart allows us to see more clearly, not only our own needy, distorted and anxious self, but also the caring face of our compassionate God. Somehow, God's heart has become one with ours. Here we catch sight of the meaning of Jesus' words, "Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle & humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Yes my yoke is easy and my burden light". Jesus invites us to accept his burden which is the burden of the whole world; a burden that includes human suffering in all times & places. But this divine burden is light and we can carry it when our heart has been transformed into the gentle and humble heart of our Lord". (p. 87)
It is with this kind of vision that it is possible, then to move into the midst of our world with a heart at rest. And, it is this restful heart that becomes a magnet, attracting those who are groping to find their way through life.
"When we have found our rest in God, we can do nothing other than minister." In other words, out of our solitude and silence, our "being" becomes "doing".
This certainly has given me lots to think about these last few days... I know I haven't come to understand all I've encountered with those verses from Matthew - that needs some more 'thinking'...
until next time,