Table of contents
Chapter Nineteen: ON THE BODILY AND MENTAL ACCOMPANIMENTS OF PRAYER
IT is important, while practicing prayer in this way, not to give the body free rein. A prayer in which the body is not distressed and the heart grieved is like an incompletely developed fetus, says St. Isaac the Syrian, for such a prayer has no soul. And it carries within it the seed of self-sufficiency and pride that makes the heart consider itself not only among the called but even among the chosen few (Matthew 22:14).
Beware of this kind of prayer; it is the root of many errors. For if the heart is bound to the carnal, your treasure also remains in the carnal, while you think, even so, that you hold heaven in your carnal embrace. Your joy becomes impure and expresses itself in lack of control and the urge to prattle and instruct and convert others without being appointed by the Church to the calling of teacher. You interpret Scripture according to your carnal mind and cannot bear to be contradicted, and engage in hot arguments for the sake of your opinion, all because you have neglected to discipline your body and thereby humble your heart.
True joy is quiet and constant, wherefore the apostle urges us to rejoice evermore (I Thessalonians 5:16). It proceeds from a heart that weeps over the world's (and its own) turning from the Light; true joy is to be found in grief. For it is said: Blessed are they that mourn (Matthew 5:4) and Blessed are ye that weep now with your carnal self for ye shall laugh with your spiritual (Luke 6:2 I). True joy is the joy of consolation, the joy that wells up in the knowledge of one's own weakness and the Lord's mercy, and that does not need the bared teeth of laughter to express itself.
Think also of this: the person who is bound to earthly things may rejoice but may also be upset or disturbed or grieved over earthly things: his mind is exposed to continual changes. But the joy of your master (Matthew 25:21) is enduring, for God is unchangeable. Thus control your tongue at the same time as you discipline your body with fasting and strictness. Talkativeness is a great enemy of prayer. A spate of fluttering words stands in the way of the words of prayer. This is the reason that we shall render account for every careless word we utter (Matthew 12:36). One does not bring the dust of the road into a room that one wishes to keep clean; thus keep your heart free from gossip and chatter about the events of the day that is past.
The tongue is a fire, and consider how great a matter a little fire kindleth(James 3:5-6). But if one gives a blaze no air, it dies out: if you do not give air to your passions they are gradually quenched. If you are kindled to anger, be silent and do not let it be noticed outwardly. Only the Lord may hear your confession. Thus you extinguish the burning brand at the beginning. If you are disturbed over the mistakes of another, follow the example of Shem and Japheth: cover them with the mantle of silence (Genesis 9:23); thus you quench your desire to judge before it bursts into flame. Silence can be filled with watchful prayer as a bowl holds water.
But it is not only the tongue that the person who practices the art of watchfulness must control. He must look to himself (Galatians 6:1) in every detail, and his care must extend to the depths of his being. Deep within he finds immeasurable store-rooms, where memories and thoughts and fantasies stir about and must be restrained. Do not stir up a memory that will cover your prayer with mud, do not root around in the soil of your old sins. Do not be like the dog that returneth to his vomit(Proverbs 26:11). Do not let your memory linger on private matters that can reawaken your desire or set your imagination going. The devil's favourite wrestling-place is precisely our imagination; through it he draws us to further intercourse with him, to consent and action. In your thought-world he sows doubt and worry, attempts at logical reasoning and proof, fruitless questions and self-found answers. Meet all such things with the words of the Psalm: Away from me ye wicked(Psalm 1 119:115).