I remember learning many things "by heart": the Pledge of Allegiance, the Lord's Prayer in English, the Preamble of the Constitution, and later all the verses of Miss American Pie.
Growing up, we always prayed as a family at mealtime, and mom would tuck us in at night and say our prayers with us, and those were always learned prayers as well, except for the add-ins of people we would pray for, but in general, we would recite the Lord's Prayer in Armenian and later on the 15th prayer of I Confess with Faith - Bahaban Amenaynee or O Christ, Guardian of all.
As we grow up, we learn about prayer and talking to God not by heart, but FROM the heart. And this is how I spend my morning prayer time with God, in conversation. Mostly listening to myself and trying to hear Him or feel God's presence. And this morning, not having anything to write about today in mind, I asked for guidance on what I could share with you. And then I left for work.
I have made a habit of praying by heart when I am alone.When I was going through radiation therapy, I would recite the 23rd Psalm. I had my rhythm timed just right so that when the machine started, I would start, "The Lord Is My Shepherd." I would go nice and slow, and just when I would end with ..."and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever," the machine would click off. I found this very comforting at a very scary and uncertain time in my life. But I digress....
So I left the house this morning for work, and on my 6 block walk to the bus stop (in the DARK because of the new time change), I was praying the 24 "I Confess with Faith" prayers, and I got to prayer #9 and there it was again...the thinking with the heart thing. Here it is:
"All Provident Lord, place your holy fear as a guard before my eyes that I may not look lustfully; before my ears that they may not delight in hearing evil words; before my mouth that it may not speak falsehoods; before my HEART that it may not THINK evil; before my hands that they may not do injustice; before my feet that they may not walk in the paths of injustice, but so direct them that they may always be according to your commandments. Have mercy on all your creation and on me a great sinner."
And so there it was...you get what you pray for. I asked for something to write about, and here it is. And it made perfect sense. To think with one's heart. Whether we act in joy or anger, the emotion comes from the heart. The brain controls the physical functions of our bodies, but it's the heart that controls our actions. Whether we choose to love or hate, fear or embrace, it's all tied in with the love we receive, the hurt we felt, the disappointment, the happiness, the joy and the sorrow...and it's the heart that controls all of that.
For me, there is a place for both - by heart, and from the heart - prayer. The prayers that I have learned over the years are not a substitute for the conversations that I share with God in the early morning hours, throughout the day and late at night. They have been a companion to me in the worst of times, and also in the best of days. But they are a constant comfort, and they accompany the beat of my heart, and the rhythm of my footsteps as I walk everyday, by heart, with God.
To hear the audio version of this as well as other blog entries, tune into The Next Step with Father Vazken a weekly podcast about Armenian Orthodoxy and applied Christianity at www.epostle.net