When we enter with our mind into our heart and there stand in the presence of God, then all our mental preoccupations become prayer. – The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen (page 69)
This is the logical and mysterious conclusion of Nouwen’s book. The goal of the practices he has been describing is to enter into a continual state where our heart is one with God’s heart. If we are not divided, then our mind and heart are one and we are continually in God’s presence. All our thoughts are prayer because they are intentionally shared with God. This is what Nouwen means by all-inclusive prayer.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29,30 ESV)
As we read through the gospels we find Jesus surrounded by need. Only on rare occasions does He seem weighed down by that need. During the final week, He cries over Jerusalem because He knows it will be destroyed. He definitely is distressed as He prays the night before the crucifixion. Other than that, He seems to be at peace and expects those around Him to share in that peace.
I want to be constantly connected to Jesus, to be aware of God’s presence in the person of His Holy Spirit. I want my heart to be God’s heart. These are wonderful objectives, but none are the reality of what I constantly experience. I get busy and soon everything is about me and depends on me. I need solitude to remind me that God is in control and He wants me to participate in His mission, but it is His mission, not mine.
I start thinking that no one understands and if I just said or wrote the right words all conflict would go away and we would all be at peace. I need silence to remind me that God has spoken and we have not understood. This should make me aware that there are many things I probably don’t understand yet. I need to pursue a constant and intimate connection with God that isn’t dependent on words.
Finally, I think that if I just prayed more, then God would do what I want Him to do. I have no doubt that God wants us to pray. God wants us to trust Him with all our thoughts. We are instructed to make requests of Him, so I don’t want to imply that we should never set aside specific time to consciously and intentionally speak to God. What I think Nouwen is suggesting and I think is worth pursuing is a relationship that brings us to a place of peace as we know that our heart and God’s heart are becoming one.
The desert fathers thought that the only way to achieve this was to withdraw from community for an extended period. I don’t think that’s necessary, but I do think that we must be intentional in our pursuit of this relationship with God. It won’t just happen. Our natural inclination is for independence and autonomy. Jesus’ yoke is not natural and means interdependence and submission. Choosing this is a matter of the heart.
This concludes our walk through The Way of the Heart. Next up is Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.