Opinions

Prayer and the Inward Turn

     The idea of an “inner turn” as the prelude to discovering the awesomeness and wonder of God has always made me uncomfortable. It always seemed so self-involved and egocentric to claim that there is nothing greater than the soul and that we must therefore  look at nothing else but ourselves to find God. As someone who finds great delight and comfort in the beauty of nature, I am still not convinced that we have nothing, or very little, to learn about the majesty of God through nature or things outside of us. However, reading Metropolitan Anthony Bloom’s book, “Beginning to Pray,” in my Eastern Orthodoxy class reconciled me to the idea of an “inner turn” and how this practice and view of prayer is not simply discounting everything outside of oneself but is actually a sincere way to find God, though I do disagree with some of the specifics of his ideas.

      Bloom first introduces the question of where we are to direct our prayers. “You cannot focus on things which are less than God,” he writes. “The moment you try to focus on an imaginary god, or a god you can imagine, you are in great danger of placing an idol between yourself and the real God.” After outlining the danger of circumscribing God to our own ideas and images of Him, Bloom writes that the Gospel proclaims that “the kingdom of God is within us first of all.” He then continues, “If we cannot meet God within, in the very depth of ourselves, our chances of meeting Him outside ourselves are very remote.” Bloom concludes by explaining what he means by turning inwards, clearing up many of my misconceptions about this idea. “I am not saying that we must become introspective,” he writes. “I don’t mean that we must go inward in the way one does in psychoanalysis or psychology. It is not a journey into my own inwardness; it is a journey through my own self, in order to emerge from the deepest level of self into the place where He is, the point at which God and I meet.”

      This idea of “turning inwards” seems much more accurate. We ourselves are not God; we must first go through ourselves to find God. Though we must turn inwards, we still need to make it through all of the very un-Godlike qualities we possess. One main issue I had with the idea of looking into yourself to find God is that I myself am most definitely not Godlike at all. I know this firsthand. However, Bloom acknowledges this in a way that makes it possible to turn inwards despite that. A crucial part of the inward turn is, in fact, making it past all of the sinful parts of myself.

      I wholeheartedly agree with Bloom’s idea of the inward turn and how this affects our prayers and our awareness of God. However, I don’t think that this is the only way to pray, as he seems to imply. This idea of an “inner turn” and an increased awareness of where God meets our souls is beautiful and good but also very hard to attain. Simply because it is almost unattainable doesn’t make it less correct, but I don’t believe that the only people who truly pray are the few who have reached this consciousness of God inside of them. Many Christians, myself included, have not come to the “point at which God and I meet.” Whether we should come to this higher understanding of prayer is another matter, but I don’t believe that our prayers go unheard. I would even venture to say that these inexperienced prayers can be just as heartfelt as the prayers of more spiritually-mature Christians. If and when we come to experience God in the way Bloom describes, our prayers will still never be perfect. However, we have the Holy Spirit, Christ and the Saints to intercede and pray for us as well; there is no reason this should be different for one more inexperienced in prayer. As Bloom writes earlier in his book, “We should think rather in terms of an increasing progression from depth to depth, from height to height.” Even when we approach God without this cultivated inward awareness, we are still involved in a beautifully deep and meaningful relationship with our Creator.

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