But when you pray,
go to your inner room,
close the door,
and pray to your Father in secret.
And your Father who sees in secret
will repay you.
– Matthew 6:6
The wisdom saying of Jesus in Matthew 6:6 helps us to understand the path to what St. Paul calls the deep knowledge of God and what Fr. Thomas clarifies as “not just abstract or intellectual knowledge, but the knowledge of God that is experiential, that alerts us or makes us sensitive to a mystery that we can’t enunciate with our conceptual apparatus, but which is far more real than anything that we can see, feel, think, image, or have any other access to through our ordinary human endowment.”
In Manifesting God, Fr. Thomas says that what the Christian tradition calls contemplation is this experiential knowledge of God. This is the God whom we know by faith is within us, closer than breathing, closer than thinking, closer than choosing, closer than consciousness itself; the God whom Jesus calls Abba, the Aramaic term for “daddy.” Fr. Thomas says, “…the primary attitude that Jesus suggests we bring to prayer in secret is the realization that God is Abba: close, concerned, nurturing, bending over us with boundless protection, tenderness and love.” In the last two sessions we noted that rather than being an onlooker in our lives, God joins us in our joy and suffering. The God who is joining us is the God Jesus knew as Abba.
As Fr. Thomas unpacks the message in Matthew 6:6 he first reminds us that when Jesus says “when you pray” he is inviting us into prayer as a way of deepening relationship. Our prayer is the way we relate to God and as we grow in the experiential knowledge of God, we are engaging in a process that leads to divine union. We start this process by first entering into the “inner room” or the spiritual level of our being where we let go of our ordinary psychological awareness of everyday life. The inner room is not a place, but an interior disposition of openness and surrender to God. When we “close the door” we engage our will. In other words, we choose to firmly let go of our ordinary mental activities such as feelings, images, memories, and reflections as well as external stimuli. Closing the door speaks of our intention.
The practice of Centering Prayer, of going into the inner room and closing the door, allows us to rest and remain turned towards the Divine Indwelling. “And then the energy, instead of going no place fast and being wasted on trivia, will become available for the service of God and for others and for enormous growth of our creativity and everything else that is positive and valuable and good.”
“We need to be especially careful to follow the Gospel precept which instructs us to go into our private room and shut the door so that we may pray to our Father. And this is how we do it.
“We pray with the door shut whenever we withdraw our hearts completely from the tumult and noise of our thoughts and our worries and when secretly and intimately, we offer our prayers to the Lord.
“We pray with the door shut when, without opening our mouths and in perfect silence, we offer our petitions to the one who pays no attention to words but looks hard at our hearts.
“We pray in secret when, in our hearts alone and in our recollected spirits, we address God, and reveal our wishes only to Him…”
– Abba Isaac, 4th Century Desert Father
- View the video excerpt “Prayer in Secret, Part 1” which is 24 minutes in length.
- As your experiential knowledge of God has grown during this program, have you experienced God as Abba – close, concerned, nurturing, bending over you with boundless protection, tenderness and love?