In John's Gospel Jesus has a remarkable conversation with a Samaritan woman; the interest of this conversation, the insights it contains, are too multiple for a short reflection like this so I'd like to draw your attention to one aspect of it. Jesus says to the woman, 'Those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life' (4:14).
Here, as often with Jesus' teaching, the inner life is the focus. The gift Jesus gives is a water which becomes in us a source of renewal. As with so much in the Bible these words can appear mysterious and opaque. But the idea of an inner spring starts to make sense when we consider prayer.
For many of us the word prayer carries particular associations: closing your eyes, placing your hands together; lifting people and places before God in words. One way of understanding Jesus, in John, when he talks of an ever-renewing water of the Spirit, is that he is speaking about spiritual prayer. He says to the woman, soon after he has spoken of the inner spring of water that, 'God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth' (4:24).
Contemplative prayer, or the prayer of the heart, flows deeply through the Christian tradition. There are variations to how it is practiced but here is one way. Sit still, be alert and comfortable. Close your eyes. Gently, silently, say a short prayer or prayer word. The word could be Love or Jesus or Peace. It could be the Jesus Prayer which comes out of the Orthodox tradition, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have mercy on me. The point of the prayer word, or short prayer, is that the saying of the word(s) keep our mind and heart turned toward God rather than caught up in the ever-evolving world of thoughts. Of course, during the time of prayer, thoughts, emotions, distractions will come, but when they do, we gently turn our attention back to the silent saying of our prayer.
There are rich affinities with contemplative prayer and meditation from other faith traditions. The prayer of the heart is the work of turning from ourselves, our thoughts, and towards the reality and presence of God. After a period of contemplation, or over time, we can slowly, perhaps intermittently, discover a richer sense of God's abiding presence.
At St Anne's we have a regular Contemplative Prayer evening. We meet on Tuesdays at 7pm. We spend around half an hour in silence, and we then listen to a reading from the Bible. It is an opportunity to gather and worship the God who is Spirit, to gently rise above the ebb and flow of our thinking, and to meet with God in stillness and silence.
The Church has not always helped people discover the depths and riches of its spiritual tradition. As an institution the Church has not always taught people how to pray, how to draw closer to God, how to discover the presence of God on the other side of our words and our chronic busyness. Making time to meet with God in spiritual prayer is a door into the abundant life Jesus came to share.