The Power of Meditative Prayer | Mindfulness Rewrites

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Power of Meditative Prayer

þ  Do you find yourself feeling spiritually empty or confused?
þ  Do you ever wonder if or worry that you’re “not doing it right” when you’re seeking to connect with a higher power?
þ  Do you find it difficult to find the words or to articulate your feelings in prayer?


In 1886, Russian writer Leo Tolstoy penned the short story of the “Three Hermits,” a parable about the power of faith. The story follows the voyage of a bishop sailing through smooth waters to the Solovetsk Monastery in the company of other pilgrims; along the way, their ship comes across a little unnamed island where three unnamed hermits live “for the salvation of their souls,” as explained to the bishop by a resident fisherman. Upon the bishop’s request and after quite a bit of fuss, the captain is convinced to stall the ship and the bishop is rowed to the island and to meet the hermits.

Upon arriving on the island and meeting the three old men, the bishop promptly offers them his benediction and an offer to mentor them. When the bishop asks the hermits about their method of prayer, the hermits reply with apparently the simplest prayer that the bishop has ever heard: “Three are ye, three are we, have mercy upon us!”
For the bishop, this very simple mantra does not suffice. “You have evidently heard something about the Holy Trinity,” he tells them, “but you do not pray aright … That is not the way to pray; but listen to me, and I will teach you.” And he begins to teach them the customary Lord’s Prayer as found in the Scriptures. The hermits doggedly repeat the prayer after him, trying their very best to memorize it despite their age and feebleness.
At day’s end, the bishop sets out towards the ship again, blessing the hermits and bidding them to pray as he’d taught them. As the boat approaches the ship, he can hear the voices of the hermits, carried over the water, as they determinedly repeat the Lord’s Prayer over and over in order to remember it. Near dawn the very next day, hours after the ship sets sail once more, the bishop—sitting on the deck and unable to sleep—witnesses a miraculous sight: “the three hermits running upon the water, all gleaming white, their grey beards shining, and approaching the ship.” The pilgrims wake; they, too, are unable to believe their eyes.
The three hermits, running on the water “as though it were dry land,” call out to the bishop that they have come to him because they forgot all the words to the Lord’s Prayer and wished for him to teach them again.
The bishop, humbled, crosses himself and bows before the hermits with genuine humility, realizing and admitting to them that “your own prayer will reach the Lord, men of God. It is not for me to teach you. Pray for us sinners.” The ship sails off and leaves the three hermits in peace to return—still gliding over the waves—to their island and their pious lifestyle. 
“True prayer is measured by weight, not by length. A single groan before God may have more fullness of prayer in it than a fine oration of great length.” –C. H. Spurgeon


When the bishop first met the hermits, he attempted to teach them to pray “the right way”, spending hours with the hermits and trying to make them memorize the unfamiliar words. Instead, the encounter taught him an enormous lesson: that the formality or the form of prayer matters far less than the authenticity and whole-heartedness of a prayer, whatever it may be and in whatever form. Far better an illiterate man’s genuine, heartfelt prayer than a “cultured” man’s formal yet pretentious, judgmental, or absentminded prayer.
®    Notice The bishop’s first encounter with the hermits is indicative of the manner in which he initially approached prayer and how he judged the ways in which other people connected with God. It was only after he saw the miracle of the three humble hermits walking across water—an echo of the Biblical miracle of Jesus walking on water—that he realized how much more pious and heartfelt their own illiterate or seemingly foolish prayers were. He noticed that he had been set in his ideas and had lacked the flexibility and humility to accept different—and, very likely, better—ways of praying.
®    Opportunities… Once the bishop realized that the hermits’ simple yet faithful prayer was obviously blessed and “right” in the eyes of God, he had the opportunity to change his own mentality and approach.
®    Within... The greatest lesson the bishop would ever give would be the one he accepted and taught himself through witnessing the humbling power of the hermits. He realized that he was wrong to have judged the hermits for their different methods. This inner realization unleashed within humility and the graciousness to admit that he was wrong, and that he was neither worthy nor needed to teach the hermits; that they, instead, had been his teachers. This was clearly a journey that would forever change him.
“In prayer it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart.” –John Bunyan

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