Having considered prayer in activity, we must consider activity in prayer. This is all the more necessary because the tempo at which most people's lives are lived today is probably swifter than ever before. It has communicated something of its pace to the business of prayer. You would have thought that it might have made for a reaction, "at least I can relax and be still when I am before the Blessed Sacrament," but apparently it has not. "The wheels have been spinning since I got up," is more the prevailing attitude, "and they insist on keeping it up while I am trying to pray."
If there is tension outside prayer, there will be a corresponding tension inside prayer as well. The mind will run busily on. The thoughts may be holy, but they will be rushed. The atmosphere will vibrate. Prayer will rattle.
All this means that we start off at a disadvantage. We of this generation have to make much more of an effort to secure calmness in prayer. The practical question arises at to what is the best way to do it.
Someone has said that just as a man who is about to dive into the water waits until the surface disturbed by the previous diver is smooth again, so the man about to pray must wait until all the surface disturbances have ceased before he plunges into the presence of God. The only trouble about this is that he may have to wait all day. There is always something or someone: the surface does not remain smooth for long. A better idea would be, in this particular kind of diving, for the diver to get into the water in the quickest way possible and let it smooth him.
If tranquility is necessary for prayer, and it certainly is, then a way must be found not only of stemming the rush of images and distractions, but of quieting down the pieties as well. A distraction is a distraction even if it is about sanctity. Anxieties are no less anxieties because they happen to be about prayer. You will admit that you have spoiled your prayer by worrying about what you are going to wear to tomorrow's party; you forget that you can spoil your prayer just as much by wondering what you are doing to do for Lent. All these things can be arranged outside prayer time. When praying, get into the presence of God, and ask Him to shed your worries and wanderings for you.
So it would be a mistake to imagine that in prayer there must be a succession of either holy imaginations, holy reasonings, holy emotions, or holy words. If holy thoughts suggest themselves, follow them up. It is the perfect straightforward and simple act of desiring God and praising him for which you must aim in prayer. Anything that militates against this must be pushed aside - even if it means handling a good thing roughly. It is the overactivity, the misplaced emotion, and the ill-directed idea that must be corrected. The main thing is the desire for God's glory, and everything must be subordinated to that.
Forget about prayer being a recitation of sentiments suitable to a creature, and think of it as the kind of orientation of heart that must be gratifying for a Creator to see in His friends. This gives a wider idea than that which suggests that we pray only when we are saying things to God from a kneeling position. To keep up a flow of talk may be necessary when dealing with some of our friends (although goodness knows it should not be), but it can hardly be necessary when we are trying to get in touch with God.
Although prayer is a ceaseless output of praise, it is not a feverish output of it. And if prayer is thought of as output, it must be thought of as intake as well. In fact there can be no satisfactory output unless there is proportionately more intake going on at the same time. And for intake, there has to be serenity, silence of the noisier faculties, and receptivity. "Be it done unto me according to Thy word." "Be still and see the salvation of the Lord." "Let all flesh be silent at the presence of the Lord." Tranquility.
From: Holiness for Housewives, Dom Hubert van Zeller (1905-1984)
van Zeller was a prolific writer and talented sculptor, whose works grace many churches and monasteries in Britain and the United States. He described his own writing about the Faith as an effort to use "the idiom of every day to urge people of every day to embark upon the spirituality of every day."