Silent prayer:

A little while ago, during the lunch break of a retreat I was giving, someone asked if they could discuss something I’d said in a talk that morning which had made them very cross.

I’d said that prayer is not primarily something we do, but what God does, within us and for us.

I’d suggested we might think of meditation, silent prayer, as a response to Christ’s invitation, “Come away by yourselves to a solitary place and rest a while,”[1] an invitation to lay down all our thoughts about doing something for God and allow ourselves to rest in what is always happening within us and for us.

In Chapter 41 of her profound work The Showings of Divine Love, Julian of Norwich says that Christ, Love, disclosed to her:

“I am the ground of all your praying. First, it is my will that you have what you long for. Next, I am the one who makes you long for it. Finally, I cause you to pray for it. So how could it be that you would not get what you ask for?”[2]

We long to realise oneness, our oneness with God and all creation.

In Chapter 42, Julian writes:

“There are three things our Lord God wants us to understand about prayer.

The first is that prayer originates with God himself. This is what he means when he says, “I am the ground of all your praying.” When he says, “It is my will that you have what you long for,” he means that prayer flows from and returns to his goodness.

The second thing God wants us to know about prayer has to do with the manner in which we practice. Our will needs to be transformed into the divine will, and we need to rejoice in our praying. That’s what he means when he says, “I am the one who makes you long for it.”

The third thing God wants is for us to understand the fruit that we harvest through prayer: that is, to be oned[3] with and made like our Lord in every way. That is the entire purpose of this love-lesson. And he will help us, and shall make it so.”[4]

Of course, accepting God’s help (or anyone’s help) is not always straightforward for us. There are many reasons why we find it hard to allow ourselves to rest, to be still, to be loved. Most of us need to surrender some deeply rooted resistances (often rooted in fear and experiences of suffering).

Even the invitation to rest, to be still, can provoke strong reactions and sometimes make us feel angry at first (like when someone kindly invites us to “calm down” or gently says “it’s OK” when all hell is breaking loose inside us and life feels absolutely not OK). Depending on where we are, the invitation to peace might make us want to shout or cry or touch us like the embrace of warm sunlight.

It doesn’t help if we’ve been taught that prayer is what we do and God receives, rather than what God is doing and we are receiving.

The lady who became angry on the retreat slipped away early that day. I was a little worried about her and very pleased when she emailed a couple of weeks later.

We met up for coffee and talked about the invitation and the promise. We thought about what was shown to Julian, and my new friend found these words of the Dominican Herbert McCabe both uplifting and deeply comforting:

“God never changes his mind about you. He is simply in love with you. What he does again and again is change your mind about him”[5] — and everything.

In meditation, we cultivate a stillness that helps us accept the invitation and rest in its silent embrace.

This does not happen all at once. It requires time, many seasons of practice and the loving-support of others. It is a slow process of discovery, a flower of grace that unfolds through our lifetime.

But the promise that accompanies the invitation is extraordinary. We need not fear. The invitation to be still is the invitation to touch and be touched by the limitless ocean of love that is always present within us, always manifesting as us.

God is the ground of our prayer because God is our ground, the deepest truth of who we are.

In Chapter 46 of The Showings Julian writes:

“Our soul is oned with him, and he is unchangeable goodness. There can be neither anger nor forgiveness between God and our soul. For the goodness of God has made our soul so completely one with him that there can be absolutely nothing separating us.”[6]

And in Chapter 54:

“I saw no difference between the divine substance and the human substance; it was all God.”[7]

There is no separation. The ground of our being is pure goodness, pure love, pure peace. There is only oneness (a oneness so profound as to be beyond oneness).

Let God be God, says Julian. Let love be love, let peace be peace, through you.

Accept the invitation to God’s “love-lesson” of oneness. Allow yourself to be shown this oneness, that you are this oneness.

Be oned and live this oneness together.

[1] Mark 6:31.

[2] Julian of Norwich: The Showings, translated by Mirabai Starr (Canterbury Press,
2014), p. 99.

[3] Oned (“Oynd”) a Middle English term indicating the realisation (unveiling) of our essential oneness with God.

[4] Julian of Norwich: The Showings, translated by Mirabai Starr (Canterbury Press,
2014), p. 102, translation slightly altered.

[5] Herbert McCabe, Forgiveness in Faith Within Reason (Continuum,
2007), p. 158.

[6] Julian of Norwich: The Showings, translated by Mirabai Starr (Canterbury Press,
2014), p. 114, translation slightly altered.

[7] Ibid. p. 149.

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