I have come across not a few descriptions of prayer ranging from the traditional to the modern. Prayer, is at times described as: the raising of the mind and heart to God; a hunger for God; a search for God; a listening to God; a conversation with God; a presence in, to and for God; a relationship with God; a being still with God; a being loved by God - to mention but a few. But possibly the best description of prayer that I have come across is the one by Juliana of Norwich (1342-1416), an English anchoress, regarded as one of the most important Christian mystics. In Revelations of Divine Love she states: “The best prayer is to rest in the goodness of God, knowing that, that goodness can reach down to our lowest depths of need.”
To pray is to rest in God. The very idea is so relaxing! Understanding prayer in these terms puts the focus on God rather than on ourselves. Prayer thus becomes not so much an exercise in which we are engaged, but an experience of rest which we enjoy. We let go of ourselves in serene surrender giving ourselves over to a God who is good. We can appreciate Juliana’s understanding of prayer living as she did in a time of trouble and turmoil with the Black Death and the Peasants’ Revolt when suffering was commonly seen as a punishment by God of the wicked. Her theology, in which this understanding of prayer is rooted, is always optimistic. She speaks of God’s love with such instinctive tenderness, ineffable joy and infinite compassion.
To rest in prayer is to be when all activity on our part ceases to let God act. To rest in prayer is to be silent when all words become useless because we need to listen to what God is saying. To rest in prayer is to hand ourselves over in serene surrender to God because we know that He cares for us. To rest in prayer is to trust God and to know that in His goodness He cannot but do and bring about what is good for us. The God in whom we rest in prayer is good. The God in whom we rest in prayer knows all our needs. The God in whom we rest ourselves in prayer provides us not with relief from our burdens but with resources to bear them. The God in whom we rest in prayer is one who wants to enfold and embrace us with His love.
Many years back while I was still a very junior seminarian in formation, I would enter into a little book the “lights” I received during prayer. It was a book that I treasured and the so called “lights” were pithy sayings that I thought had been “divinely inspired.” I would dip into the little book for “instant inspiration”! I remember having preserved these “lights” jealously and carried my little book even into the early years of my priestly life and ministry. I do not know what has happened to that little book. Somewhere along the way, moving from one parish to another, from one posting to another, my “little book of instant inspiration” got lost. To be honest, I did not feel lost, neither was I in darkness. Something strange happened. The “lights” did not go out. Rather they came in. They got written deep on to my heart as personal, profound and permanent convictions. My personal prayer over the years has understandably changed so much from what it was when I was a seminarian. But resting in the goodness of God in prayer has always made me emerge renewed, refreshed and reinvigorated.