At prayer, I bring everything in my life before the Lord, all that I am and am not. I bring to prayer my successes and failures, my fatigue, concerns, and fears. To whom shall I go for consolation? Psalm 62 begins: “In God alone is my rest.” This is echoed in: “Come to me, all you who labor and laden down with heavy burdens [you who are forced to bear heavy burdens], and I will give you rest. Take up your yoke upon you, for I am meek and humble of heart” (Mt 11:28).
If my heart is honest and docile, then prayer will transform me. I will put on Christ, put on his mind and wear his heart, be his hands, his patience and energy and feet (Col 3:5ff). This is why St. Paul could say, “I live, not I, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20). In order for this to happen, I must shed my sinful ways. I alone am responsible for my sin, always before me.
Yoga and Buddhist Meditation
Yoga, Buddhist meditation, or other techniques are valuable ways to relax and quiet the mind, and relieve stress. These strategies help in coping with life’s challenges. If they benefit the individual, then that person will be better able to help others.
For all their value, these self-help techniques are no substitute for prayer. They are not to be confused with prayer. They are not prayer. Yoga and Zen can lead the individual to prayer. They are additions to prayer.
Whereas Yoga and Zen focus on self-help, prayer focuses on the encounter with the person of Christ who is our help.
Yoga and Zen quiet the mind. Prayer quiets the mind so that Christ may enlighten and transform it.
Some years ago, I made an eight-day Zen retreat with a noted Zen master who was also a Jesuit priest. In silence, about thirty women and men sat on individual mats facing a blank wall—a still point—for seven hours a day, for eight days. This experience offered a different approach to western meditation.
In meditative prayer, the physical senses play an important role. As one advances, prayer is simplified. Here, the individual prays with the spiritual senses. Some individuals can rest in the Lord with few words or with no words at all. This is mysticism. In the history of western art, there are several depictions of saints in a mystical posture. “St. Teresa in Ecstasy,” sculpted by Bernini, is perhaps the most famous of them all.
The Church needs men and women whose lives have been transformed through the prayer of the Church, men and women who are able to communicate to others the experience of encountering God in prayer. The Church needs this kind of saint whom God uses to transform others, and by extension, the entire world.