A friend sent me a second question:
“In spiritual direction, I was advised that it is always good to take a spiritual book of some sort when one is going to pray. I think it is said that St Teresa of Avila never went to pray without a book to help her. What are your thoughts on this? Is a book something that is used for those further up the journey in their spiritual lives (of which I am only beginning really)? At present I do not particularly feel the need for a book.”

These are practical, down-to-earth, questions.

First of all, let me say that, implicitly, my friend is speaking here only about “the prayer of the heart” also called “mental prayer” (it has as well many other names). Because if we are doing for instance Lectio Divina, we would be taking the Bible, the two readings of the Mass. The “Prayer of the heart” is a quieter moment, where we are rather in silence, at least with no audible sounds. Yes the mind/brain can very easily be rambling and muttering, but normally we are invited to, rather, be quiet and essentially receive the gift of God: God Himself pouring Himself in us.

(For greater details on how to do “Prayer of the heart”, have a look at this lesson in 4 parts: part I,   part II,   part III,   part IV)

Let me stress a lot on that point: The Prayer of the heart is not the only way of praying, and we have first “Lectio divina”, as in the Mass we have the Two Tables: the Table of Word of God, and the Table of His Body and Blood. So, we have already food for our mind during the lectio divina (which is the extension of the Liturgy of the Word). It is not that our mind is left alone, rambling, with no food. Ok?

The extension the Communion (in the Mass) is the Prayer of the heart. It is like coming back to that very moment of “com-union” with Jesus, just freshly received.

Question: while in this very deep and strong moment of Union with Him, would you take a book and read? The answer is: no.

If you are faithful to the Lectio divina, fervently faithful and doing it well, your Prayer of the heart will be extraordinary boosted as stated in John 14,23: the one who loves me, puts my words into practice (Lectio), then, the Father will love him (this is how the Prayer of the heart finds its origins: the love of the Father) then we will come in him and dwell in him (the Prayer of the heart).

The answer to the initial question of my friend is: Yes, the clear advice is to have a book with us. The important thing is to understand the goal of having a book with us: it is not in order to read, but in order to help us recollect our heart’s energy around Jesus himself who wants to give Himself to us. So while praying we are not in a quiet library where we are supposed to read. It is not “reading time”. It is only in the very case of emergency, were the distractions can be overwhelming. So the “use” of the book is very specific. I often saw my masters (the French Carmelites) taking the Bible with them. I personally always take the Bible with me.  But watch me, do I open it? Seldom. It is just the presence of the Bible at my side to scare the distractions. 🙂 You are right that, at least for a long period in her life, saint Theresa did always take a book with her for the Prayer of the heart; but for her, the book helped her recollect her mind, in order to focus on Jesus.

Let me add: we addressed the issue of distractions during the Prayer of the heart lessons. You remember certainly that the main “tool” we use in order to protect the Encounter happening in our heart from the distractions happening in the mind, is the repetition of a short prayer that bears the Name of Jesus and/or the name of Mary. (I do simply say Hail Marys, quietly, with no mental effort, since THE Mystery is HERE, in the heart) The rhythmic repetition goes with the natural quiet rhythm of our breath, preferably holding our own rosary in our hand.

I do believe that if we understand all the elements, things will fall into their right place and we will have peace and our spiritual life will be boosted.