It takes two things for prayer to come to pass--a person and a word. Prayer involves right relationship between those two things. But we have lost that relationship. Involved as we are in many relationships, our relationship to words has become totally obscured. We do not think about words, although few things are as important for the life of the spirit as the right relationship to words. Words have become clichés, objects of absolute abuse. They have ceased to be commitments.
Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Insecurity of Freedom, with thanks to inward/outward
I often think that the relationship between word and prayer we find in prayers of repetition, whether the Cloud of Unknowing’s “sharp dart of longing love”, or the Jesus Prayer, the Hail Mary, or any other, is a cleansing one. Words used like this, as bare prayers, unencumbered with emotional baggage or conceptual complications, are as free from cliché and abuse as we can get, almost.
Holding to this discipline, allowing the words to be merely what they are, a plain approach to God in God’s own terms, is perhaps the closest we can come to Heschel’s “right relationship”. We are not trying to achieve anything here; we are letting God do that, merely “being with God, putting ourselves in his presence, being hungry and thirsty for him, wanting him, letting heart and mind move towards him; with the needs of the world on our heart…” (Michael Ramsey)