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My Whole Life, in one sense, has been an experiment in how to be a portable sanctuary -- learning to practice the presence of God in the midst of the stresses and strains of contemporary life. Some people who read my books are surprised to learn that I have never been drawn to a monastic life, as important and valuable as that way of life is. For me, the great challenge has always been to experience the reality of God in the midst of going to work and raising kids and cleaning house and paying the bills.
The grand experiment is to experience in everyday life what Jean-Pierre de Caussade calls "the sacrament of the present moment"; seeking, ever seeking to live, "light as a feather, fluid as water, innocent as a child, responding to every movement of grace like a floating balloon."
Prayer is central to this reality of ongoing interaction with God. It is the foundation of all the spiritual disciplines of engagement -- the via positiva. Over the years this has led me into many ways of praying, including the experience of praying as my own the prayers that have been preserved throughout the centuries.
This may surprise some, especially those who assume that prayer must be spontaneous in order to stay alive and fresh. But, if we are honest, we all must admit that there are times when we simply cannot find the words to express the deepest yearnings of our heart, and at such times the prayer of another often is able to come to our aid with the words that we could not find for ourselves. At other times we do not feel up to praying, and the words of a written prayer will "prime thepump," so to speak.
Besides, we do not have to choose between written prayer and spontaneous prayer. Either/or can yield to both/and. I find that more often than not the written prayers of the ages lead me into spontaneous prayer of my own. We can come before God in both liturgical dignity and charismatic jubilee.
Perhaps the most famous written prayer is what we today call "The Lord's Prayer," actually "the disciples' prayer," which was given to the Twelve by the Lord when they wanted instruction in genuine, life-giving prayer. The "Our Father," as it is often referred to, contains all the ingredients of true, heartfelt devotion to God and can lift our spirit into the very presence of the Holy.
Also, the Psalms are a rich and frequently used source of prayer. Frequently I find that the heart cry of the psalmist "speaks to my condition," as the Quakers put it. It is little wonder that the Psalter is called "The Prayer Book of the Church."
Then too, we have the written prayers of two millennia of Christian devotion. These prayers come to us from varied cultures and span the centuries, and yet they all speak with the same voice of heartfelt devotion to God. When I pray the prayers that they prayed so long ago, I am somehow drawn into "the communion of saints."
Over the years these prayer experiences have led me, as you might expect, to prayers of my own, some of which I have written down. Hence, this little book.
Since the prayers of the Bible are readily accessible to you in many fine translations, I have not felt the need to include them here. (Though I do hope you will read them -- and pray them -- often.) The prayers I have written are interspersed with a variety of prayers by followers of the Way throughout the centuries. Their profound devotion "speaks truth to power," and I am sure that they will find a home in your heart as they have in mine.
Perhaps a word is in order about the use of the prayers in this book. I would not presume to know what is appropriate for you in your own spiritual development -- that is something only you can determine as you build a personal history with God. Even so, it might be helpful to share with you how I use the prayers that have been written by others.
The most obvious feature of written prayer is the words, and so that is where I begin: looking at the words, reading the words (sometimes silently, sometimes audibly), getting some sense of the texture and shape of the words. Sometimes the prayers are poetic in form, other times they are decidedly prosaic; sometimes stately, other times simple; sometimes drawing near in deepest intimacy, other times falling back in awe and godly fear. Attention to the words, then, is the beginning point of the prayer experience.
Written prayer, however, intends far more than linguistic significance; it seeks to usher us into the loving heart of God. Therefore, as we pray the words, we are going beyond the words and into the reality which the words signify. Like Isaiah we are in the holy temple seeing the Lord high and lifted up. Like John we are flattened by the vision of the glorified Christ. Like the disciples in the upper room we are in intimate, life-transforming dialogue with the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Once I begin entering into whatever experience God in his infinite wisdom knows is best for me (and knows that I can endure), I leave the words of the written prayer behind. They have served their purpose. My task now is to be attentive to the heavenly Monitor; listening, interacting, receiving. At times I may write down expressions of petition or praise, at other times I may move beyond words altogether -- always I want to be in a posture of holy expectancy and holy obedience.
And, so for you. Jesus Christ, your everliving Savior, Teacher, Lord, and Friend will guide you into what you need. Pay attention to him.
My sincere hope is that as you read these prayers you will pass beyond reading and into praying. If so, the purpose of this slender volume will have been fulfilled.
Richard J. Foster
Christmas Eve, 1993Prayers from the Heart. Copyright � by Richard J. Foster. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.