When I was a teenager, I remember reading 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray without ceasing.” I had always used the telephone method for prayer. Pick up the phone, address the answering party, exchange pleasantries, state my business, say my farewells, and hang up the phone. But this verse led me to ask myself, “What if I don’t hang up the phone?” What if I just leave the line open all the time? If I define prayer as the words I speak and think, then it could get pretty exhausting, chattering away at God all day. But if I think of prayer more like growing my roots into the soil and stretching my branches toward the sun, that feels more life-giving.
I decided to give it a shot. I opened up my heart to God – and let me stop right there, because for me, prayer is not a mind sensation, but a heart sensation. We used to believe that our brains are for thinking and our bodies are there as the life support system for our brains. There is an increasing body of evidence pointing to the idea that we actually “think” with our entire bodies. Our brains are great for coming up with (sometimes fantastic, imaginative and crazy) explanations for things that we don’t understand and organizing information – but my heart is where I feel my connection in prayer. So instead of beginning a brain-based chatter fest with God, I put my attention / focus / inner ear on the sensations in my heart, reaching out through my heart to the being who I addressed in prayer as “God” and just let that focus of inner listening remain – instead of saying, “Amen” and hanging up the phone.
Side note: I say, “The being who I addressed in prayer as ‘God’” because I am aware of how we tend to make God in our own image, and a seemingly innocuous pronoun like “he” when referring to God already creates a false god with a gender role, stereotypes, cultural inferences, and other boxes that limit. When I connect to God in my heart, I don’t want to pray to the God who I have made in my own image, but that *actual* being – not defined, created, or limited by me.
That has now been more than 35 years ago, and I have grown accustomed to that heart connection accompanying me wherever I go. As soon as I stop, it is there, filling the silence with stillness and peace. Over the years, I have discovered that it has its own way of speaking to me. As my brain (or other people’s brains) present me with a stream of thought, it gives me a spectrum of feedback from the strong, resonant, “YES” to a particularly poignant truth, to the resounding “no” of a corrupt lie – and everything in between. I do occasionally think that I receive impressions or downloads of information that feel like insight or inspiration – but mostly I just sense something that feels more like “yes” or “no.”
I’m not going to tell you that the messages I receive are universally true or that I speak to you with the voice of God. I think that I hear enough in order to walk my own path – not that I hear sufficiently well to tell you how to walk your path! I’m also not going to tell you that I always follow the direction that I receive. But I love the scientific method – and if this idea intrigues you, set up a little experiment for yourself. See what happens if you open that connection and then don’t hang up the phone. Train your heart to listen for that subtle direction and see what happens if you follow it. Test your words before you say them and see if you get a “yes,” “partial yes,” “partial no,” or a “no.” Give it some time.
Do you already have some experience with this? If you feel comfortable, share your stories in the comments. If you are new to this idea, try it out and let me know how it goes. What works for you? What doesn’t work?