Cassian: Discipline in Prayer

In doing some research for the next section, I ran again across this passage which was marked with double lines, underlines, and a star in the margin in my copy of the Conferences and which must be shared:

For whoever is in the habit of praying only at the hour when the knees are bent prays very little. But whoever is distracted by any sort of wandering of heart, even on bended knee, never prays. And therefore we have to be outside the hour of prayer what we want to be when we are praying. For the mind at the time of its prayer is necessarily formed by what went on previously, and when it is praying it is either raised to the heavens or brought low to the earth by the thoughts on which it was dwelling before it prayed. (John Cassian, Conferences 10.14.2)

I’ll have to stick this back into the Disciplines section somewhere…

7 Replies to “Cassian: Discipline in Prayer”

  1. Hang on–we’re getting there… The next section tackles in detail early reflection on the meaning of “prayer without ceasing” and how it ties in to the practice and purpose of the Daily
    Office.

  2. This the bit that just precedes your quote from Cassian:

    “There are three things that stabilize a wandering mind—namely, vigils, meditation, and prayer. Being faithful and constantly attentive to them produces a solid firmness of soul. Yet this cannot be laid hold of unless, by tireless constancy in work dedicated not to avarice, but to the holy practices of the cenobium, we have first completely renounced every care and anxiety of the present life. Thus we shall be able to fulfill the apostolic command, ‘Pray without ceasing.’”

    I am presently translating “The Cloud of Unknowing”,and it is that putting what Cassian calls “every care and anxiety of the present life” into “the cloud of forgetting” which is perhaps the most challenging and difficult of “The Cloud” author’s regimen of contemplative prayer—the rejection of EVERYTHING from the past—both bad and good. Refusing to pay attention to the past or worrying about the future (i.e.,Cassian’s “a solid firmness of soul”) is a core discipline for the contemplative way.

  3. Well, I mean: this is absolutely brilliant. It’s a simple, eminently doable-by-anybody meta-technique for getting ahold of the wandering mind – and for practicing the discipline of “conscious contact with God.” Relaxing, yet powerful.

    But even more than that, it’s an exact parallel, as far as I can tell, for the idea of “preparation” – i.e., “becoming ready” – something that shows up several times in A.A.’s Steps. And “getting ready” is a very productively dynamic state of mind.

    Including this will be very helpful to many, many people, I am guessing….

  4. Well, I’m probably the dummy here, but I find the quote very difficult to understand. I had to keep rereading it to get the point, and only understood it after reading the comments. I suppose it depends on who the audience is intended to be, but if the audience is the average lay person, I’d leave it out.

  5. Susan, I think it’ll make more sense in context. Cassian is talking about how we settle our mind before praying, and how we make that a habit. I’m thinking about using it in direct connection with the earlier discussion about that so it’s more clear what it refers to.

  6. To paraphrase Cassian: “If, outside of my prayer time, I am constantly distracted by my iPhone, I will even on bended knee be distracted by my iPhone.”

    I must, therefore, practice ignoring my iPhone all day long in order to ignore it during Morning Prayer.

    (Or at least to ignore all but the Daily Prayer Anytime app from Forward Movement – h/t to Derek.)

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