Recollecting Within

How often the experience of prayer can be an exercise in frustration! So many distractions inside and out fragment our focus and pull us away from the time we try to spend with God. With so many things on the go, the idea of silence and peace can seem so foreign at times; but even in the midst of all this clamor, peace is possible.

The founder of the Discalced Carmelites, St. Teresa of Jesus, teaches us a way of prayer which counters the clamor - the prayer of recollection. "It is called recollection because the soul collects together all the faculties and enters within itself to be with its Godů It withdraws the senses from all outward things and spurns them so completely that, without its understanding how, its eyes close and it cannot see them and the soul's spiritual sight becomes clear." (The Way of Perfection, 28.4-6)

The heart can master its own distractions. In giving the distractions no importance whatsoever in this time set aside for God, they have less power to be a hindrance to prayer. They are more easily ignored by letting them fall away rather than by trying to push them away. Imagining them falling away as leaves to the ground is one way of letting them go.

With distractions minimized, silence has a chance to spill into the void left in the heart. Silence is not merely the absence of noise; silence is a full and palpable tranquil experience of God's presence filling the heart from within. Psalm 46 expresses this well: "Be still, and know that I am God." (Psalm 46.10)

With a persistent effort and self-forgiving patience, the practice of remaining in silence becomes more established and enduring. Habitually remaining in silent attentiveness to God's presence in the Tabernacle of the heart while in the quiet setting of a chapel is an effective way to develop this practice.

A Discalced Carmelite brother of centuries past, Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, offers us this advice: "You are not the only one that is troubled with wandering thoughts. Our mind is extremely roving; but as the will is mistress of all our faculties, she must recall them, and carry them to God, as their last endů Hold yourself in prayer before God, like a dumb or paralytic beggar at a rich man's gate: let it be your business to keep your mind in the presence of the Lordů One way to re-collect the mind easily in the time of prayer, and preserve it more in tranquillity, is not to let it wander too far at other times: you should keep it strictly in the presence of God." (The Practice of the Presence of God, Eighth Letter)

This poem describes the practice of interior silence in the prayer of recollection.


Silence Within

In deep recesses of the soul,
Where vermin and passion roam free,
Instinct exerts primal control,
Beyond frontiers of sanctity.

In prayer that reaches this frontier,
Strong waves of silence are deployed:
Congealing all as they draw near,
To still the churn and fill the void.

Like artifacts in amber set,
The vermin and passions are stilled:
A profound peace counters their threat;
And, with silence, the void is filled.


The five senses remain alert;
Recollected, yet cognizant.
The heart and mind, remain inert,
Knowing the Lord is not distant.

For the Bridegroom, the soul awaits;
In silence, the soul captivates.


Holy Spirit, teach us the way,
To enclose the depths of the soul
In silence and peace as we pray --
Your tranquil presence fills us whole. Amen.




References:

St Teresa Of Jesus, The Way of Perfection

Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, Practice of the Presence of God

Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2711, 2729




prepared by:

Paul Buis




(c) Paul Buis, 2005