In the fourth chapter of The Compassion of the Father, on “The Prayer of the Heart and Suffering,” Father Boris Bobrinskoy begins by noting that suffering threatens to either destroy us or else to harden us and the only way to avoid this is by turning to Christ. He then continues to address the role of the prayer of the heart in this process.
Human beings are beings of communion, but sin, fear and their consequences have made us strangers to others, to ourselves and to God. Opening ourselves to God involves opening ourselves to those around us and we cannot do that without striving for inner unity. “Prayer of the heart presupposes and signifies this entire mystery of the human heart.” (86)
When we encounter suffering, and especially intense suffering, we run the risk of either self-destruction or of developing a hard shell for protection, or of developing reactions such as sadism and cruelty.
No one is immunized against this. Not one of these dangers is entirely and totally alien to us. All of us, saints as well as sinners, walk along abysses of hatred and evil. (86)
It is in the context of seeking to find the strength to resist such psychic and spiritual destruction, that Father Boris places the importance of the prayer of the heart.
Prayer of the heart, not as a panacea, but as a “master key,” is a tool that has stood the test. What is important is not the “technique” of this prayer, but the deep life of the believer. At the ground level of being and life, Christians faced with suffering find the proper attitude. Living the life of Christ, letting oneself be penetrated by His Spirit, by His breath of mercy, constitutes Christianity. According to the Bible, that means acquiring the bowels of compassion and tenderness of the Father. According to the second chapter of Philippians, it presupposes having the same feelings as Jesus Christ, not in the sense of mimicry or external imitation, but a true “transfer” on a plane more important and fundamental than the psychological level. A transfer of presence, of life center, of grace and love must operate in us so that we might live in Christ, and Christ might live in us. Certainly, this transfer operates in a global, constant, and progressive manner, through the sacramental life, love, prayer, and faith. For us Christians, the Church is the place of apprenticeship of this transfer: its entire pedagogy, its sacramental and liturgical transmission, its spiritual methodology, and its ascetic experience of the inner life, what the Fathers call the unseen warfare against the passions. (87)
According to Scripture and “the most authentic spirituality of the West as well as of the East,” the heart is not simply concerned with affectivity, but is “the preeminent seat of the spiritual life.” (88) It is the place of the presence of God but also of the forces of evil and needs to be purified in order to return to its first vocation. Thus we can see the heart as
the center of convergence and radiation, as the place of unification of all the faculties, feelings, and living forces of the human being: body, soul and spirit.(88)
Prayer of the heart is not only about interiority, but also seeks
to render back to us this unity in which the mind is not alien to this intimacy with God. The entire human being moves in the wake of Christ: the body itself prayerfully reflects in its face the presence and grace of God. The tragedy of sin weighs down our civilizations and causes a dissociation in us on various levels of life: autonomy of the senses becomes sensuality; intelligence becomes rationalism; the heart turns toward sentimentality. This break between the mind and the heart, which reflects the individual as well as society, rebounds on Christian culture and society, on behaviours, on the very life of faith. (89)
Jesus Christ came to restore human unity. The Gospels show Him experiencing intense prayer and also moments of strong emotion in which He was distressed by the suffering He encountered.
Suffering includes not only physical or moral suffering but also this compassion of Jesus and of the saints when faced by those who refuse the light, the truth, goodness, and love – explicitly or implicitly, under avowed or disavowed forms. Our prayer must enlarge to the measure and to the image of Jesus. (90)
This prayer of Jesus was not isolated to particular moments but was a perpetual prayer, a communion, and the key to this communion is the Holy Spirit.
To be continued…