How should one pray? John Tauler answers the question:
Every good person, when he intends to pray, should gather together to himself his external senses and look into his heart and mind to see that they are well focused on God. A person can do this in the highest, lowest, or intermediate manner. and to this end it is good for a person to examine very carefully what is most suitable and what most moves him to proper, true devotion; and let him then make use of his manner of work. But you should realize that whatever good person wants to engage in true, proper prayer, so that his prayer will truly be heard, must have already turned his back on all temporal and external things and on whatever is not divine, whether it be friend or foe, and on all vanity, whether it be clothes or jewels or anything of which God is not the true source. And he must separate his words and actions from all disorder, internal or external.
Often we are caught up in temporal matters and forget to set temporal things aside and focus on God. That has been happening to me over the last year. My study of the scriptures and historic theology became an idol and obscured my view of Jesus Christ and with Christ obscured my prayer life suffered. Pride in my own ability to hash out the deeper meaning of a text or passage left my soul barren and lifeless. Being focused on temporal things, like dispelling doubt or proving to others the truthfulness of the Reformed Confessions, was causing me to doubt and lack faith. The last few months I’ve focused my time on prayer instead of polemics, devotion instead of study, and just as He promised I was graciously brought back to prayer.
This is how a person should prepare himself for true prayer. This is what St. Peter calls being one of spirit – that the heart and mind are attached completely to God alone, and that a person have the focus of his ground and spirit completely turned to God as present, and have a tender, benevolent attachment to God.
Children, everything we have, after all, we have from God. And how could it ever be otherwise than that we offer back completely everything that we have ever received from him with our interior focus and spirit, undivided and simple, turned toward him. And then one should engage all one’s facilities, interior and exterior, and should carry them up entirely into God.
A warning against ritualism and lack of zeal in prayer:
This is the proper manner of true prayer. And do not imagine that true prayer is when one babbles away outwardly with the mouth, reads the Psalter a lot, keeps vigils often, and fingers a rosary while one’s heart is running hither and yon. You should realize truly: all prayers or actions that hinder your spirit from praying should simply be let go, whatever they might be or be called, or however great or good they might seem, with the sole exception of prayers prescribed for those obliged by order or holy church. Except for that, simply let go whatever else keeps you from true, essential prayer.
Yours in the Lord,
“A 14th century Dominican, John Tauler was a renowned preacher of the middle ages. Although not as speculative or poetic as some of his contemporaries, Tauler’s sermons are among the noblest, showing his gift for clearly expressing spiritual truths. Inner Way is a collection of his festival sermons. Often called a Christian mystic, Tauler emphasized the “blessed contemplation” of God. However, his emphasis on divine contemplation was always tempered with practical advice for daily Christian living. Inner Way is consequently a true gem. It is historically valuable, spiritually enriching, and ideal for the liturgical season. Many believers–including Martin Luther–have found these sermons engaging and instructive. They are well worth the read.” Tim Perrine CCEL Staff Writer