An excerpt from John Main OSB, “Second Conference,” THE GETHSEMANI TALKS (Tucson, AZ: Medio Media, 2000), pp.37-39.
Meditation is the prayer of faith because we are willing to follow the Teacher’s command: we are willing to lose our lives so that we may realize fully our potential.
And when we have found our true Self, our task is only beginning.
For as soon as we have found ourselves, what we have done—in St Augustine’s expression---is to have found the “stepping stone” that will lead us to God. Because then and only then do we find the confidence necessary to take the next step, which is to stop looking at our new-found Self, but instead to turn the searchlight off ourselves and onto the Other. And meditation is the prayer of faith precisely because we leave ourselves behind before the Other appears, and with no [prior] guarantee that he will appear. The essence of all poverty consists in this risk of annihilation.
This is the leap of faith from ourselves to the Other, and it is the risk involved in all loving. . . [It] is a delicate moment in the development of our prayer. For when we begin to realize the totality of the commitment involved in deep, self-surrendering prayer, there is a strong temptation to turn back, to evade the call to total poverty, to give up the ascesis of the mantra and return to self-centered rather than God-centered prayer.
The temptation is to return to that prayer we might describe as the prayer of anaesthetized, floating piety---the prayer that John Cassian termed the “pax perniciosa,” (the ruinous peace) and the “sopor letalis” (the lethal sleep). This is a temptation we have to transcend. Jesus has called us to lose our life, not to hold out negotiating for better terms. If we lose it--and only if we lose it--will we find it in him. John Cassian’s vision of prayer, restricting our mind to one word, is proof of the genuineness of our renunciation. In his vision of prayer we renounce thought, imagination, even self-consciousness itself, the matrix of language and reflection.
But let us be quite clear why we renounce all these gifts of God at the time of prayer. . .It would not be enough to say that we renounce them merely because they “distract.” It would indeed be absurd to deny that they are the primary means of self-understanding and communication. Nor do we renounce them because we consider that they have no place in either our social or personal relationship with God. It is obvious that the whole of our liturgical response to God is based on word, gesture and image. And Jesus himself has told us that we can pray to the Father in his name for whatever we need, for the needs of the whole world.
All these considerations must constantly be kept in sight. But at the center of our being all of us know the truth of what Jesus means when he invites us to lose our lives so that we may find them. At this same center, all of us feel the need for a radical simplicity. . . In other words, we all know the need to rejoice in our being at its simplest, where we simply exist with no other reason for existence than to give glory to God, who creates us, who loves us and who sustains us in being. And it is in prayer that we experience the sheer joy that is simple being. Having surrendered everything we have, everything by which we exist, we stand before the Lord God in utter simplicity. And the poverty of the single verse that John Cassian enjoins is the means. . .of losing our life that we may find it, of becoming nothing that we may become all.
After Meditation: An excerpt from John Cassian, “The Tenth Conference: On Prayer, XI, ” JOHN CASSIAN: THE CONFERENCES, ed. Boniface Ramsey, OP (New York: Paulist Press, 1997), p. 383.
1. Let the mind hold ceaselessly to this [way of prayer]. . .until it renounces and rejects the whole wealth and abundance of thought. Thus straitened by the poverty of this verse, it will very easily attain to that gospel beatitude which holds the first place among the other beatitudes. For it says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” And thus whoever is admirably poor with poverty of this sort will fulfill those prophetic words: “The poor and the needy will praise the name of the Lord.” 2. And in fact what poverty can be greater or holier than that of one who realizes that he has no protection and no strength and who seeks daily help from another’s bounty, who understands that his life is sustained at each and every moment by [God]?