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Lent -more Space for Prayer: Seeing with the Heart

Seeing with the heart

Which path should we take to attain that encounter with the Father which we yearn for? Which of our faculties has he given us for this purpose? Our intelligence, perhaps: our capacity for thought and reasoning? Let us take note of Jesus’s answer: ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to these little ones: yes, Father, for such was your gracious will’ (Mt 11:25f.). It seems astonishing: the path is closed to the intelligent, to people skilled in thinking and evaluation. It is not for them that God has kept the unravelling of his secrets.

But has not God given us our brain, our ability to think, form ideas and imagine things, as a means to enter into relation with others? 

True, all these faculties are God-given. They are good, indispensable, and we should not despise or belittle them. But we should recognise their limits.

When I think of something—or let us rather say, of someone, someone close—with my head and not my heart, I keep him at a distance. I may get an idea of him. I may manoeuvre him about a bit to assess him, but I do not commit myself to him in any way. I am not really engaged. I keep a distance. I stay safe with regard to this person. I do all I can to know the other without being carried away or tarnished by the life that flows from his heart. I want to remain free before him. In some cases, this procedure might be appropriate. But if I am looking for love, it is surely not the way to follow.

Jesus continues his teaching: ‘All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him’ (Mt 11:27). ‘All things have been handed over to me by my Father.’ This means, precisely, that between Father and Son distance is done away with. Neither seeks to preserve independent security with regard to the other. Having accepted reciprocal engagement, they can know one another mutually by a knowledge of love which is presented as a mystery reserved for initiates: ‘No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son.’ No one knows, for no one risks openness of heart. If we want to know the Father, we must consent to receive that knowledge from the Son, to the extent that he finds our heart ready to embrace it.

In order really to know God, I must relinquish all my securities. I must eliminate the distance which thoughts and preconceptions have let me keep with regard to him. I must own my vulnerability. However well I have kept it hidden, I must, in the clear light of day, accept it and live through it, which is to say: I must permit my heart’s true responses to express themselves. From that moment on, I shall be able to enter into relation with the Father and the Son, and with all my brothers and sisters in humanity.

In concrete terms, this is about consenting to live at the level of my heart. I must grant it the right to exist, to make its presence felt, and to express itself in its own language, that is, through deep emotions: trust, joy, and enthusiasm, but also fear, sometimes anguish, and anger. I do not mean by this that we should live at the level of superficial sensibility. On the contrary, we should allow these profound movements to develop in us and lead us to a truthful encounter with the Other. This is what it means to be ‘a little one’: someone who spontaneously expresses himself and lets himself be seized by love for the Other who stands before him. How hard to have the courage to be little!

What I am saying here is aligned both to the Gospel account and to normal psychological processes. The two levels are distinct, obviously, but complementary and intertwined. We must learn to perceive everything through the loving gaze with which Jesus sees all creatures and even the divine Persons. This is what I mean by ‘seeing with the heart’: to accept that the Son reveals the Father to me at the only level at which I am able to take on the revelation; the level at which, by virtue of my humanity, there is in me an image of the intimate relation between the Father and the Son, that is, in my heart.

From: A Carthusian: The Prayer of the Heart

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