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Archive for April 1st, 2011

The Prayer of the Inward Man: Praying in the Spirit

(Excerpted from “Thy Kingdom Come” by Jorge Madrid Sr. with the author’s approval)

“One thing I ask of the LORD, that I will seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and inquire in his temple”

(Psalms 27:4)

The Lord’s main intent for us in prayer is communion with Him in the Spirit. Prayer prepares us for worship – a worship that cannot be accomplished save “in Spirit and in Truth”. It therefore, behooves us to ask the Holy Spirit to lead us in growing spiritually by helping us to understand how to grow in prayer so we can come to the personal intimacy with the Father for which we were created.

Let us first discuss the distinctions we humans have made in attempting to understand what true prayer entails.

A distinction is sometimes made between vocal prayer and mental prayer. Vocal prayer being that category of prayer that encompasses all prayer that is expressed in words. Mental prayer, as I understand it, refers to all non-verbal prayer that depends on using mental disciplines to reach into the depths of our inner person in such a way as to achieve communion with the Divine at the center of our being. Both of these categories of prayer, as valid as they are, involve the use of our mind in some fashion or other. What the distinction fails to capture is another mode of prayer that bypasses the mind altogether. Paul calls this category of prayer, “praying in the spirit”. Prayer in the spirit may be both verbal and non-verbal and does not involve any mental gymnastics, it is one of the spiritual gifts. This type of prayer is infused by the Holy Spirit and permits our spirits to commune directly with God[1] both with and without words.

Now, verbal and mental prayer may eventually get us to the same point (that is, at our spirit level) but it is accomplished using human effort and mental discipline. The scripture tells us that when John the Revelator was in prayer on the Lord’s day he “was in the Spirit”[2]. Now many assume that he was in a state of ecstasy and that may well be true. But the way he entered that state was most probably not through a mental discipline but through the gift of “prayer in the spirit” which is available to all Christians. Paul further tells us that the main purpose of praying in the spirit is for self-edification[3], that is, spiritual growth. Though “praying in the spirit” may get you to a state of ecstasy, the normative practice is usually much different. That is, we do not lose the use of our natural faculties, they are fully functioning and can interrupt our prayer at any time. We merely let our spirit take over in doing our praying without involving our natural mind or our emotions. There are some effects to praying in the spirit, but all of them are desirable. The most common being, a sense of great peace that permeates your being, a feeling of thankfulness to God, and an awareness of His Manifest Personal Presence. Sometimes His love comes over you so powerfully that your body trembles and you sense Him touching those places deep within you that need His healing touch. On more intense prayer occasions your body seems to float away and you drop to the floor carried away by wave after wave of His Love sweeping over you.

We must always be careful, however, not to let consolations such as these divert our motives for prayer. We pray because we are giving of ourselves to our Creator and not because of what He can give to us. There are times when there are no consolations at all but because our faith has grown we give of ourselves regardless. This is when our prayer is at its purest because it is not tinged with self-interest. True inward prayer seeks to lose our very selves in Him much as a droplet of water is loses its identity when in falls into the sea!

I would urge my readers who really desire to go deep into prayer and spiritual growth to seek this Holy Spirit- induced form of prayer rather than resorting to human methods and techniques, In order to do so, you should to seek a “release of the Holy Spirit[4] in your lives so that the Holy Spirit might provide the gifts you need to truly empower your prayer life. I assure you that this will not exclude any other mode of prayer but instead will strengthen and complement them and lead you to new levels of spiritual growth. In fact I would not move into deep meditative or contemplative prayer without the spiritual gifts.  You see, as we enter into a deeper prayer life we are basically opening up our spirits to the spirit world and without the gifts of discernment of spirits, wisdom, and knowledge, we could be caught up in a spiritual deception which might divert us from the true faith. There are forces at work in the spiritual plane, which would take advantage of our naïve and thus unprotected openness, if our spiritual senses have not the proper defenses. Because of this, it is important that before we go to deep into meditative prayer we also seek the aid of a spiritual director as well as the Gifts of the Spirit.

One of the difficulties some of us lay persons face as we attempt to grow spiritually is that we usually do not have access to adequate[5] spiritual direction.  In such cases dedicated prayer and a strong grounding in the Word of God is absolutely necessary. Remember to seek the Holy Spirit, who has promised to bring all things into remembrance, and depend on the anointing we have through Him in the inward man. That anointing is there to teach us through our spirits regarding the things of God[6].

The Pathway to Inner Prayer

It was always the Lord’s desire for His children to come to him so that they could enjoy a full relationship with Him. Until Jesus, His Son, came to redeem us however, the way to union with the Father was obstructed by man’s fallen nature.  Jesus came to be the Door or the Way to the Father. He himself said I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”[7]. By this statement Jesus was not only telling us of His role in salvation but He was also indicating to us that He, and He alone, is the only safe pathway to the Father through inner prayer. Using the imagery of Old Testament rituals, the Lord God presented this pathway to those who were sensitive to the move of His Spirit. You see, “the WAY”, “the TRUTH” and “the LIFE” that Jesus was referring to were allegorized by the design of the Tent of the Meeting (the Tabernacle of Moses).

The Tent of the Meeting (or Tabernacle), as we all know, had three principal areas:1) The Enclosure, which contained the  Altar of Holocausts and the Laver, 2) the Holy Place which was the foyer in the Tent  of the Meeting and which contained the Table of Showbread, the Menorah, and the Altar of Incense, 3) the Holy of Holies which contained the  Ark of the Covenant on which was the Seat of God’s Presence, The Mercy Seat.

The WAY, which Jesus referred to was the way through the entry of the enclosure to the entry to the Tent of the Meeting. Upon entry to the enclosure, Jesus is symbolized in both the Altar of Holocausts and the Laver. In His crucifixion He was our Holocaust opening the way to the Father by dying for our sins. He was also the Laver that washed us by the Word so that we could enter into the tabernacle not only covered with His blood but purified by the Word.

Once inside the Tent of the Meeting, Jesus was also the TRUTH symbolized by the Menorah because He revealed the truth of the Father to us. He is also symbolized in the Table of Showbread for He indeed was the Bread from Heaven. Because He sacrificed not only his body but His Soul as well, this was the sweet smelling incense on the Altar of incense that was the last item before the curtain to the Holy of Holies. When He died, the curtain of separation between God and man was torn open so that through Him we might have access to the Holy of Holies.

And, of course, most of all, He was symbolized in the Ark of the Covenant with its combination of wood and gold (human and divine) which was the place of God’s Presence, the LIFE.

Ark-within-the-Holy-of-Holies

Within-the-Holy-of-Holies

In the same way, the symbolism of the Tent of the Meeting, may also be thought of figuratively as a guide or pathway to the different levels of inner prayer. These levels have been historically identified as: The Purgative Way, The Illuminative way, and the Unitive Way[8]. Those familiar with the mystical work, “The Cloud of Unknowing”, will also immediately associate the levels I am indicating here as corresponding  to the levels of spirituality indicated in those writings, namely,   The Common, The Special, The Singular, and The Perfect[9]. I use the symbolism of the Tabernacle because it is more meaningful to me since my spiritual journey has been guided by my meditation on scriptures. Please understand that the analogies are only useful for our human minds to attain a focus in preparing ourselves for inner prayer, they are merely the rungs on which we may ascend the spiritual ladder no matter how our mind envisions them or what metaphors we use to name them. In fact, as you will see that when we enter the phase of inner prayer that I term “the Tent of the Meeting”, we must divest ourselves of all thoughts, imagery and symbolism even our consciousness of self. For the sake of illustrating the spiritual journey, I resort to this analogy because otherwise I would not have any words to express what it involves.

When most of us begin our spiritual journey we are nowhere near the enclosure or the Tent of the Meeting. We find ourselves as the Israelites did, in the Camp, this is the “Common” level mentioned in the “Cloud”. In the Camp we are considered part of the people of God, we are under His protection, and we participate in the prayers of the community and its rituals. The world with all its temptations and terrors is outside the Camp making incursions and tempting us with its allure. Inside the Camp, we are made aware of a separation that exists between ourselves and the Tent of the Meeting where God’s Presence abides. We see a large fence of white linen (signifying righteousness/holiness) held up by poles of brass (signifying judgment) because of this we have the sense that the furthest we can approach is the entrance to the tent and then only with our sacrifice in hand.

But there is something inside of us that draws us to the Enclosure and to the Tent of the Meeting. This is the work of God’s LOVE drawing us to HIM.  It is a hunger to be part of the mystery, to enter into the Tabernacle and even into the Holy of Holies and to be enveloped in HIS LOVE. This is the hunger for God that resides in each of us, but because of the demands of Holiness we dare not enter in.  This hidden constraint within our consciences is the main reason many of us are reticent to enter into the deep inner prayer of contemplation (the Tabernacle). But this inhibition is exactly what Jesus wishes to deliver us from. He came to be the WAY for us. You see, we CAN enter in, not under our own righteousness, but under the righteousness of Jesus, our High Priest. When we come into the enclosure we, like the priests of old, exchange our woolen mortal clothing for the linen clothing of Jesus’ Righteousness. We accept for ourselves the sacrifice of Jesus’ death on the cross as the full payment for our sins and we wash our souls in the laver of Gods’ Word. Then with the “Water and the Blood”[10] in our hands we are ready enter in to the Tabernacle of God’s Presence

This, then, is the first level of inner prayer, The Purgative State, which also corresponds to the second level termed “Special” in the “Cloud”. It is where we come to an inner understanding of His Love and where our desire to give ourselves totally to Him is inflamed. In this level, through the Blood of the Sacrifice, we come within the enclosure and our prayer here is at the soul or mental level (sometimes termed the purgative or meditative state). At this level we renew and purify our minds through meditation on the Word to reach an understanding of our own sinfulness and what Jesus’ Death and Resurrection really means with regard to our being able to enter in to God’s Presence. At his level, even though guided by the Holy Spirit and centered on the Word of God, we see everything through the natural light of our intellect and reason. Our prayers at this level likewise emanate from our sanctified, yet very human, mental capacities. Prayer at this level is necessary because it prepares us to go into the next level, where we literally must lose our very selves.

When the Spirit leads us (and only when the Spirit leads us[11]) we begin to move from the meditative or “special” state to the next stage where we enter into the Holy Place of the Tabernacle. The actual tent of the tabernacle was covered with several layers of animal skins so that the light of day could not penetrate the inner environment. So also, when we enter in to the spiritual tabernacle of our inner selves (the “Singular” state), we enter into an environment that is beyond the light of our senses, our thoughts, and our reason. In fact, when we enter in from the bright light of the outside we think that we are in darkness because we cannot detect any light, at least not any light that we are accustomed to. This darkness represents the self-deprivation of that which derives from our natural faculties because we seek only the One whom we love, the One who is unknowable and beyond the reach of our faculties, only through the spiritual impulse of our love can we draw near. It is only when we darken our senses and our thoughts that we can begin to draw near to Him who  is at the center of our being.

Speaking allegorically, after what seems an interminable duration in this state (for we begin to lose the sense of time), we begin to sense a low flickering light (in our spirit) that we think of as coming from the inner “Menorah” within us (the Spirit of Truth”). We also see before the Menorah a golden table with small loaves of bread. We have now entered into the Illuminative or “Special” stage of our prayer journey. The light we see with is that of infused knowledge (external to us) where the Holy Spirit brings us to the knowledge of the TRUTH and by that light we begin to understand God’s Love (the Showbread) expressed as His spiritual sustenance (the Bread of Life, His Word). As the Holy Spirit immerses us in this sensory deprived state we begin to lose our notion of “self” and begin to be immersed into the great river of LIFE that is streaming from the Holy Place. Just before the curtain, which separates us from the Holy of Holies, is the Golden Altar of Incense. As our final step before entering the Holy Place, we, acting in the place of Jesus, place what remains of our self-life on that altar and we offer it to the Lord as a sweet smelling offering. As the incense (our souls) is consumed, the smoke (of our outer self-life) hinders even the inner sight with which we are granted to see the holy curtain before us separating us from the Holy of Holies.

Continuing with our allegorical spiritual journey, we imagine ourselves groping to open the curtain as we enter the Holy of Holies (the Perfect stage) , the light of the Menorah, is shut out and,  again, darkness surrounds us, an even deeper darkness than before (the dark night of the spirit). As we let ourselves be absorbed into this darkness we are spiritually in a state of awe approaching despair not only because we become extremely aware of our own unworthiness but also because we sense a complete powerlessness and helplessness. After what seems a timeless period, we begin to be aware that we not only stand in the Presence but we are being drawn into it. Slowly, as we are immersed into the Presence, a Glory of Light begins to surround us such as no light we had ever experienced because it is not “light” as our senses know it. It is pure spiritual energy. It is as if we are being assimilated into this “Light” and are no longer sense ourselves as a separate entity but as one with Him, where we are permitted to understand the very Heart of God.

Then, as suddenly as it began, we find ourselves outside the Tabernacle. Later we surmise this duration to be but an infinitesimal increment of time. And yet nothing in our lifetimes will suffice or match what became of us in that timeless interval.  Likewise, there are no words to describe or even utter what has transpired because it is beyond all human thought or experience[12].

Returning to the Camp

When we return to the Camp, as we always must, we, like Moses, are entrusted to bring back to the community the vestiges of that Eternal Light which clings to us, not for our blessing but for the blessing of the persons with whom the Lord has placed us in relationship. In this way the Lord causes us to be channels of His Light and His Life to this world which lies in darkness[13]. This is why we carry an awesome responsibility to be JESUS to those around us! Praised Be His Holy Name!

“Let us then labor for an inward stillness

An inward stillness and an inward healing

That perfect silence where the lips and the heart

Are still, and we no longer entertain

Our own imperfect thought and vain opinions,

But God alone speaks in us, and we wait

In singleness of heart, that we may know

His will, and in the silence of our spirits,

That we may do His will, and do that only!”

(from “Christus: A Mystery”, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)


[1] 1 Corinthians 14:2

[2] Revelation 1:10

[3] I Corinthians 14:4

[4] Sometimes this is termed the “Baptism in the Holy Spirit”

[5] Adequate in the sense that the spiritual director is led by the Holy Spirit at least at the same level as the client.

[6] “ But the anointing which you have received of him abides in you, and you need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teaches you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, you shall abide in him” , 1 John 2:27

[7] John 14:6

[8] cf. “STATE or WAY” in the Catholic Encyclopedia (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14254a.htm)

[9] Chapter 1 of the “Cloud of Unknowing”, Author Unknown, circa 1350 AD.

[10] 1 john 5:6

[11] Just as John the Revelator was called by the Spirit to “come up” to the heavenly tabernacle. [into (Rev. 4:1)

[12] 2 Corinthians 12:4

[13] Matthew 5:14-16

[Thy Kingdom Come! Reflections on Personal Spirituality, Prayer and Worship.

Copyright ©2006 – 2008 by Jorge Alfonso Madrid Sr.]

RECOMMENDED  LINKS

<>  § Releasing the Spirit

<>  §  Praying in the Spirit

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