A Short and Easy Method of Prayer
Translated from the French of Madame J.M.B. de la Mothe Guyon, by Thomas Digby Brooke
By Jeanne Marie Bouvier de La Motte Guyon.
Publisher: Andover, UK: Gale ECCO, 2010.
ISBN: 9781171126355. Also available free online.
Madame Guyon (also called Jeanne-Marie Bouvier) was a French mystic who lived from 1648 to 1717. She is associated with the movement of Quietism, which held that God can be found within through stillness and surrender under the direction of a spiritual guide. Her writings enjoyed great popularity among both Catholics and Protestants of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. During her lifetime, however, Quietism was declared heretical by the Catholic Church, and Madame Guyon herself was imprisoned in the Bastille.
Born into a pious upper-class family, from her youth Guyon felt a profound desire to commune with God and struggled to achieve a state of unceasing prayer and adoration. Facing utter failure, she told “a very religious person, of the order of Saint Francis” about her problems. He was silent a long while, then said: “It is, madame, because you seek without what you have within. Accustom yourself to seek God in your heart, and you will there find Him.”
Having said these words, he left me. They were to me like the stroke of a dart, which penetrated through my heart. I felt a very deep wound, a wound so delightful that I desired not to be cured …
O my Lord, Thou wast in my heart, and demanded only a simple turning of my mind inward, to make me perceive Thy presence.
O, Infinite Goodness! How was I running hither and thither to seek Thee … O Beauty, ancient and new; why have I known Thee so late? Alas! I sought Thee where Thou wert not, and did not seek Thee where thou wert.
For the next eight years she enjoyed the constant and intense feeling of God’s presence. Then she entered a period in which she lost the sense of grace, found no savour in anything spiritual, and was gripped by fear of her own great evil. She endured seven years of this desolation, which she called “mystical death,” before she felt resurrected into a state in which she did not possess God, as she had felt in the first stage, but God possessed her so completely that she became a tool of his will. She did not act, but God acted within her, and she was moved by God to write automatically, without reflection. In this state she began her apostolic work, spreading her method of attaining the inner presence of God, most famously in a small book translated into English in 1876 as A Short and Easy Method of Prayer.
Guyon begins her book with this message: “We are all called to prayer, as we are all called to salvation. Prayer is nothing but the application of the heart to God, and the internal exercise of love.” She offers twenty-four short chapters, on subjects such as making the soul active by stilling the self, interior silence, aridities to be borne in love, and the prayer of simplicity, quoting frequently from the Bible throughout.
Guyon understands prayer as “recollection,” meaning “inward recollection, by which the soul is turned wholly and altogether inward, to possess a present God.” Again and again, she emphasizes the efficacy of this form of prayer:
When the soul is in its central tendency, or in other words, is returned through recollection into itself, from that moment, the central attraction becomes a most potent activity, infinitely surpassing in energy every other species. Nothing, indeed, can equal the swiftness of this tendency to the centre; and though an activity, yet it is so noble, so peaceful, so full of tranquility, so natural, and so spontaneous, that it appears to the soul as if it were none at all.
While acknowledging that recollection is difficult in the beginning, Guyon asserts that it becomes “perfectly easy,” partly from habit, and partly from the abundant grace of God, “whose one will towards His creatures is to communicate Himself to them.” She compares the first efforts of gathering the soul inward to the efforts oarsmen must make to move a large sailing vessel from port. But once the soul departs from thinking and outer works and spreads its sails, the oars can be set aside, and all the pilot needs to do is hold the rudder, to
restrain our heart from wandering from the true course, recalling it gently, and guiding it steadily by the dictates of the Spirit of God, which gradually gains possession of the heart, just as the breeze by degrees fills the sails and impels the vessel.
According to Guyon, this interior course will “advance us by the divine impulsion farther than many reiterated acts of self-exertion. Whoever will try this path will find it the easiest in the world.”
Guyon advises that we should begin interior prayer by reading just a few words of something inspiring, pausing often to “taste and digest it,” trying to keep the mind in the feeling it engenders. We should read not to analyze, but to fix the mind on the presence of God, letting the lively faith of the presence of God in our inmost soul “produce an eager sinking into ourselves, restraining all our senses from wandering abroad.” This extricates us from distractions and draws us toward God within.
Guyon also describes a second degree of prayer, the “prayer of simplicity.” In this state of contemplation, we find ourselves in the presence of God, and we remain there in “respectful silence,” not troubling ourselves to meditate on any particular subject. We should pray with courage, with pure and disinterested love, not for any spiritual delights, but just to please Him. Steadiness is essential: comparing the soul to a canvas and God to a painter, she says that when a canvas is unsteady, the painter cannot produce a correct picture, as it “interrupts the work and defeats the design of this adorable Painter.”
Guyon stresses the need for stillness and silence within, in order to hear God’s voice:
“The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.” (Bible, Habakuk, 2:20). The reason why inward silence is so indispensable is, because the Word is essential and eternal…. Hearing is a sense formed to receive sounds, and is rather passive than active, admitting, but not communicating sensation; and if we would hear, we must lend the ear for that purpose. Christ, the eternal Word, who must be communicated to the soul to give it new life, requires the most intense attention to his voice, when He would speak within us … we must forget ourselves, and all self-interest, and listen and be attentive to God; these two simple actions, or rather passive dispositions, produce the love of that beauty, which He himself communicates…. When, through weakness, we become as it were uncentred, we must immediately turn again inward; and this process we must repeat as often as our distractions recur.
For those facing periods of dryness and lack of faith, Guyon offers reassurance that succour will come. She explains that, if winds should blow foul and stormy seas should be encountered, we must only cast our anchor in trust of God and hope in his goodness, “waiting patiently the calming of the tempest and the return of a favourable gale.” That this waiting could take years or even a lifetime should not discourage us; we should not seek him by an exertion of will, but should wait peacefully “with silence full of veneration.” As she says, “thus only can you demonstrate that it is HIMSELF alone, and his good pleasure, that you seek; and not the selfish delights of your own sensations in loving Him.”
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