Introductory Note:

André Louf (1929 - 2010) is an experienced teacher of prayer. He belongs to the Cistercian religious community, which is known both in Europe and America for a life of joyful simplicity. 

Cistercians (sometimes called Trappists) live carefully regulated lives, doing mostly agricultural work. They observe silence, times of solitude, carefully balanced with times of work. Many people know them for their farm products: jams and jellies, cheeses, and the like. But most often they are known for the depth of their prayer lives. In the United States, Cistercians Basil Pennington and Thomas Keating are well known as teachers of centering prayer.

In his small book, Teach Us to Pray: Learning a Little About God, Father Louf brings a lifetime of experience to us in a way that makes prayer attractively simple. He teaches us how easy and natural prayer can be when he answers the question, “Is Praying Difficult?”

When he speaks about “The Superabundance of the Heart” he is drawing on a very ancient tradition of heart prayer that is a precious resource to the whole Christian community.

Father Louf is Belgian; he has broad scholarly knowledge of the Desert Fathers, but always (as you will notice in the following selection) his concern is to invite us into the delight of prayer.

—Emilie Griffin (in Perspective, April 2000)

Is Praying Difficult?

A fourteenth-century Byzantine monk, who for a short time was Patriarch of Constantinople with the name of Callixtus II, answers this question with the illustration of the lute-player. The lute-player bends over his instrument and listens attentively to the tune, while his fingers manipulate the plectrum and make the strings vibrate in full-tone harmony. The lute has turned into music; and the man who strums upon it is taken out of himself, for the music is soft and entrancing.”

Anyone who prays must set about it in the same way. He has a lute and a plectrum at his disposal. The lute is his heart, the strings of which are the inward senses. To get the strings vibrating and the lute playing he needs a plectrum, in this case: the recollection of God, the name of Jesus, the Word.

So the lute-player has to listen attentively and vigilantly to his heart and pluck its strings with the Name of Jesus. Until the senses open up and his heart becomes alert. The person who strums incessantly upon his heart with the Name of Jesus sets his heart a’ singing, an ineffable happiness flows into his soul, the recollection of Jesus purifies his spirit and makes it sparkle with divine light.”

Is praying difficult?

No one is going to give you the answer to that question. This short book has no answer for you, either. It cannot pretend to be an introduction to prayer, much less a manual of instruction. We have been listening together to the witness of a centuries’-old tradition of prayer in the Church of Jesus. Something may have revealed itself to you on the way. Has the Spirit of Jesus, who never ceases from praying in your heart, suddenly disclosed and avowed Himself? Like the embryo that leapt in the womb of Elizabeth when it encountered Jesus in Mary’s womb?

If not, that is no reason to feel discouraged: your Hour is still to come.

If so, then you should give everything you have to the task of catching more clearly the still sound of God within you. For there the field lies, and there the treasure is hidden. The moment you discover the treasure of prayer in the field of your heart, you will go off full of joy and sell all that you possess in order to have that treasure. And the lute is at your disposal, and the plectrum too. These are your heart, and the Word of God. The Word is, after all, very close to you, on your lips and in your heart (Rom. 10:8).

You need only pick up the plectrum and pluck the strings to persevere in the Word and in your heart, watching and praying. There is no other way of learning how to pray. You must return to yourself and to your true and deepest nature, to the human-being-in-Jesus that you already are, purely and simply by grace. Nobody can learn how to see. For seeing is something we can do by nature. So too with prayer. Authentic prayer can never be learnt from someone else. It has its own instructor within it. Prayer is God’s gift to him who prays.”

Superabundance of the Heart

We stand now on the threshold of prayer. Our heart has been awakened. It sees Jesus, it hears His voice, it rejoices in His Word. That Word has been turned over and over in our heart. It has purified us, cleansed us, and we have grown familiar with it. Perhaps we are even beginning to resemble this Word. Now too, it can take root in our heart and bear fruit. Now it may even become the Word of God in our flesh.

So long as we ourselves were still intent on the Word of God in our heart, we had come no further than the prelude. There comes a moment when we yield up God’s Word to the Spirit within us. Then it is that our heart gives birth to prayer. And then at last the Word of God has become truly ours. We have then discovered and realized our most profound, our true identity. And then the Name of Jesus has become our name also. And together with Jesus we may with one voice call God: Abba, Father!

Prayer is the superabundance of the heart. It is brim-full and running over with love and praise, as once it was with Mary, when the Word took root in her body. So too, our heart breaks out into a Magnificat.

Now the Word has achieved its glorious course” (2 Thess. 3:1): it has gone out from God and been sown in the good soil of the heart. Having now been chewed over and assimilated, it is regenerated in the heart, to the praise of God. It has taken root in us and is now bearing its fruit: we in our turn utter the Word and send it back to God. We have become Word; we are prayer.

Thus prayer is the precious fruit of the Word — Word of God that has become wholly our own and in that way has been inscribed deep in our body and our psyche, and that now can become our response to the Love of the Father. The Spirit stammers it out in our heart, without our doing anything about it. It bubbles up, it flows, it runs like living water. It is no longer we who pray, but the prayer prays itself in us. The divine life of the risen Christ ripples softly in our heart.

The slow work of transfiguring the cosmos has had a beginning in us. The whole creation has been waiting for this moment: the revelation of the glory of the children of God (Rom. 8:19). It is going on in secret and quite unpretentiously; and yet already in Spirit and truth. We are still in the world, and we dwell already with Jesus near the Father. We still live in the flesh, and the Spirit has already made us wholly captive. For the veil has fallen from our heart, and with unveiled faces we reflect like mirrors the glory and brightness of Jesus, as we ourselves are being recreated in His image, from glory to glory, by His Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18).

So the word of Christ resides in our heart, in all its richness (Col. 3:16). In it we are rooted, on it we are founded, by it we order our conduct in life, and all the time we overflow with praise and thanksgiving (Col. 2:6B7). This eucharist-thanksgiving has now become our life (Col. 3:15), the superabundance of our heart, the liturgy of the new world that deep within us we already celebrate. We are in fact temples of the Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19).

Excerpted from Spiritual Classics: Selected Readings on the Twelve Spiritual Disciplines, edited by Richard Foster and Emilie Griffin (New York: HarperOne, 2000), pp. 119 – 124.

Photo by Ksenia Makagonova on Unsplash

Text First Published January 2000 · Last Featured on July 2023