The prayer of quiet is the second type of contemplative prayer God gives in St. Teresa’s fourth mansions. Here is Teresa’s description of the prayer of quiet from Way of Perfection:
This is a supernatural state, and, however hard we try, we cannot reach it ourselves… In this state the faculties are all stilled. The soul, in a way which has nothing to do with the outward senses, realizes that it is now very close to its God, and that, if it were but a little closer, it would become one with Him through union.
The faculties that Teresa refers to are the powers of the soul, namely, the powers of thought, will, and memory. Teresa states that the will is occupied during the prayer of quiet, captivated by God, and enjoying a love communion with him.
Sometimes thought and imagination try to participate in and aid contemplative prayer. Often they just get in the way. They are restless, and they can be restless even while the will is completely at peace.
As the prayer of quiet grows deeper over time, the intellect will begin to “sleep,” being captivated along with the will.
In later stages of contemplation, the imagination and memory will share in the quiet of contemplation, but in these early stages they seldom do.
Here is her description from the fourth mansions:
The soul is so satisfied with God that as long as the recollection lasts the quiet and calm are not lost since the will is united with God even though the two faculties are distracted; in fact little by little the will brings the intellect and memory back to recollection. Even though the will may not be totally absorbed, it is so well occupied without knowing how, that no matter what efforts the other two faculties make they cannot take away its contentment and joy.
This prayer is effortless. It is the work of God, not the soul. The soul has done its work by persevering in mental prayer in the past and striving to do God’s will out of love throughout the day. I want to emphasis again that no technique or method can create this prayer. You cannot become a contemplative by trying to force your mind, memory, or will to be quiet.
You are powerless to produce the prayer of quiet. You can only prepare for it.
10 thoughts on “The prayer of quiet”
Really good point. We can only prepare ourselves by the grace of God, to let Him bring us to greater heights in prayer. Our society is so focused on doing. We need to practice being.
I was thinking this morning how this is so much in accord with the whole spiritual life. We didn’t commit the Original Sin, and we didn’t redeem ourselves. Our salvation is a matter of surrender.
Simple and profound. I needed to read what you said tonight. Thank you Barbara.
What is the difference between this state that St Teresa speaks of, and being in ecstasy during prayer? I would think they are one and the same are they not?
I just recently took a class in contemplative praying, in my area where I live. The course is called Oremus latin meaning “let us pray”… The class taught us how to pray the scriptures, but I also believe that a person can reach this level of praying also through personal prayers as well, as well as saying the Rosary. What do you think?
It’s very true, about surrendering… I believe that with my whole heart mind and soul.
To answer the second question first, definitely contemplative prayer can be given to those who are practicing vocal prayer instead of mental prayer. Vocal prayer prayed well blurs the line between itself and mental prayer. Teresa of Avila wrote about this very thing in Way of Perfection. However, I would not phrase it as “a person can reach this level of praying,” because it is not something a person does at all. It is a gift of God. You probably understand that, but I just want to be clear, because there is so much confusion on this with the rise of eastern mysticism in the west.
On the first question– No, the prayer of quiet is different than ecstasy. Rapture or ecstasy happens when contemplative prayer affects the body of the person praying. This begins to happen with the prayer of full union in the fifth mansions, and has its full flowering in the sixth mansions. In the fourth mansions, in contrast, even the intellect is often not greatly affected by prayer, let alone the body.
“[T]here is so much confusion on this with the rise of eastern mysticism in the west.”
Sorry. I have to comment. This is just to say that Buddhist teachings — including mystical or esoteric teachings (at least at their core) — are as far from self improvement and personal achievement as can be. Buddhist teachings on materialism focus on three types — ordinary materialism, intellectual materialism and spiritual materialism. Ultimately, there must be a surrender of self — and the path itself — and any concept of personal enlightenment for there to be lasting spiritual development. This comes in the form of surrender — in the Mahayana — surrender is articulated as a vow to work for others and to see all other beings enlightened first. Without surrender, you are stuck substituting spiritual achievements for material ones. I won’t quite say that you might as well be an investment banker — at least a life of prayer or meditation will keep you out of trouble. But it is far short of the joy of a genuine spiritual path.
Please take my comment in context. I don’t mean to criticize in any way the Carmelite path — which may differ in important ways from the Buddhist path.
And if you are referring to so-called New Age materialism, I probably agree with you. But I like to think that even for the New Age people — there is sometimes exposure to genuine practices and the path is hard enough that there can be some benefit.
I think this is the same discussion we have had many times. There are people who are Buddhists, then there are people who try to squeeze Buddhist practices into a Catholic mold or water both Buddhism and Catholicism down to make them meet in some squishy middle which doesn’t really equate to anything in either religion. As usual, I am referring to practices such as Centering Prayer, not Buddhism per se. I also agree that some people who start with this false squishy middle do end up on the right path–although you and I would disagree about which path that is. Many people who come by this blog have no experience or knowledge of contemplative prayer except for in such false teachings. I am not trying to call people out of Buddhism, but away from these New-Agey practices. I don’t pretend to know very much about Buddhism at this point.
thank you for this profoundly beautiful writing –
You’re welcome. To God be the glory!
I’ve experienced this level of prayer one time! It was the most beautiful experience I’ve ever had, even though it lasted only a few moments. I think it was likely the most basic form of contemplative prayer but I wasn’t expecting it, nor did I even know what to call it until I started reading up on it. I didn’t even really know that kind of prayer existed but now I am trying to learn more about it and hope that God (and the Blessed Virgin) chooses to engage me again. My prayer was telling me to give total trust to God. I was able to do so (on that day, anyway!) and I believe I had the most peaceful and stress free wedding day that ever existed!