I think this is the core of what Nouwen wants his readers to consider. He wants to encourage us to develop a new practice, a new way of praying. We know how to pray with our minds and we do it often. The argument of this section is that we do not know how to pray with our hearts. I agree with Nouwen’s definition of heart.
But the word heart in the Jewish-Christian tradition refers to the source of all physical, emotional, intellectual, volitional, and moral energies. – The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen (page 60)
The challenge is to find this place in prayer. Even greater is the challenge to move our hearts from the kingdom of earth to the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of earth is full of chaos. It is a noisy place and most of the time not peaceful. The kingdom of heaven is ordered. It is described as the ultimate place of peace. A child snuggled up on a mother’s or father’s lap may be the closest we get to understanding this kind of peace. I think this is what God wants us to experience with Him.
In this section Nouwen references a passage in 2 Corinthians to understand where Christ dwells in us.
For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God. Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?– unless indeed you fail to meet the test! I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test. (2 Corinthians 13:4-6 ESV)
Paul is making a case for his authority to enact discipline within the church. The core issue for all of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus is whether Jesus Christ is in us. If Jesus is in us, in our hearts, then the prayer of the heart is an intentional activity to take us from our minds to where Jesus is, in our hearts. If we do this and don’t find Jesus there, then we have a very significant issue. When we find Jesus there we will come face to face with our Savior. At this point, I would expect our prayer to become very simple. Jesus, have mercy.
The author of the critique of Nouwen’s book that I reference in an earlier post found this the best part of the book. He is a practitioner of what Nouwen recommends, and has some cautions for us as we explore this approach to prayer.
If you are interested in exploring the prayer of the heart I recommend reading his post, especially the last few paragraphs.