Prayer is the intimate communication between God and His creation. It is the language of heaven gifted to the kingdom of man. It is the word made flesh for our minds and hearts. It is our calling. It is our passion. It is our pain.
While in the kingdom of man, the true believer innately desires to communicate with his Father in heaven. At the expense of forcing himself to face the horror of his own sin, his own imperfection and his own weakness, the true believer finds himself kneeling over a pool of tears. Once the last drop of water ripples into eternity, and all that remains is silence, God reaches down to lift him up from his place of desolation
Then, out of pure love, pure mercy and pure sacrifice, the all-Holy Trinity reminds the true believer that he is the birthright of the love of God, that he is the inheritor of the Spirit of the kingdom of heaven, and that for all eternity he will have a share in Christ’s perfection as priest, prophet and king.
This work that God does for us when we reach out to Him in the intimate union of prayer is a fulfillment of the promise He made to mankind when He “formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Genesis 2:7). And it is what Jesus meant by telling us: “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father” (John 15:15).
At the same time, man very often does not fulfill is innermost promise and purpose because he is bereft of the words, the heart and the spirit of prayer that allows him to communicate with God as intimately as God communicates with him. He struggles to know how to pray, when to pray, how much to pray and for what to pray.
What the true believer will discern over time is that what matters most about prayer is the density of the time we spend in it. In other words, the length of time we spend in prayer and the heights of the language we use in prayer are rather irrelevant if the depth of the experience is lacking.
Prayer is the divine language and using it implies that we know we are far more than the sum total of our physical and psychological experiences. In other words, it is the very acknowledgment that we are both human and heavenly creatures.
Made up of soul and body, he (man) stands at the midway point of creation, uniting himself within matter and spirit, since Christ through whom and ‘in whom’ ‘he was created’ is the incomprehensible, hypostatic, indivisible but at the same time unconfused union of uncreated divinity and created contingency (Panayiotis Nellas, Deification in Christ: The Nature of the Human Person, p. 27).
Since we share in the kingdom of heaven through the hypostatic union in Christ, our prayers will naturally begin from the totality of our human experience, which encompasses our minds and hearts, our fears, our hopes, our troubles and our gratitude and longing for God. But our prayers should also arise from the part of us that becomes heavenly through the sacraments, which allows us to plunge the depths of the relationship between God and man. When we reach that nexus of the human and the divine, the density of the experience of prayer is far more important than the words we use in prayer and certainly more than length of time we spend at prayer (especially if we have convinced ourselves we don’t have time for prayer).
Remember, prayer is not merely a means to get God to give us gifts, even if He does answer our petitions when they are rooted in spiritually profitable things. “So Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ it will be done. And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive’” (Matthew 21: 21-22).
Prayer is also not merely a means to building a reputation for piety, even though the virtuous pray and prayer increases holiness. “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly” (Matthew 6:5-6).
Finally, prayer is not merely a place where we speak to ourselves gently in order to make ourselves ‘feel better’ about the trials we face in the kingdom of man, even if there is a positive psychological effect of our prayer.
But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:10-13).
The most important point about prayer is that while we await our eternal return to live in the fullness of God, it is our job and our joy to commune with Him by entering into the divine discourse that requires no words. While the Eucharist is the fount and summit of all created interface with the divine, personal prayer is the daily guarantor that we seek to bind in union the divinity we have by grace with that divinity which is God’s by nature.
The prayers that we offer to, for, and with God, rather than being long, thin and petty, are intended to plunge the depths of the hypostatic union in order to help the true believer transverse the sacramental divide between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of man.