Joan Chittister describes Benedictine spirituality as spirituality of the open heart. Simple, I suppose, but I have learned that it is not easy. I have often found my heart hidden or hardened -- hidden by everything that life throws at me; hardened from everything that life throws at me.
Open the heart, we are taught. Give from the heart. The heart, which is the wellspring of the Spirit, needs tending. Thomas Merton, perhaps the most influential Christian mystic of the 20th century, said that the challenge for Christians is to give from our heart. But he also said that this is an impossible task if our hearts are not in our possession.
Like most of us, I have a lifelong inventory of tasks, worries, disappointments and losses that have had the effect of taking my heart away from me for a time. But I also have learned that there are people -- who, with an abundance of heart, have helped to find and fill my own. And there are spiritual practices -- of community, worship, study, service, playfulness, physical activity -- that bring me back to my heart and open it up.
And there is prayer. In these first five chapters, Joan Chittister talks a lot about prayer as a practice that opens the heart and brings us into an awareness of the presence of God. The function of prayer, she says, is not the bribery of the infinite -- but is instead an activity that "provokes us to see the life around us in fresh new ways." (page 28)