The First Degree of Prayer
Those who have not learnt to read, are not, on that account, excluded from prayer; for the Great Book which teacheth all things, and which is legible as well internally as externally, is Jesus Christ Himself.
The method they should practice is this: They should first learn this fundamental truth, that |the kingdom of God is within them| (Luke xvii.21), and that it is there, only it must be sought.
It is as incumbent on the Clergy, to instruct their parishioners in prayer, as in their catechism. It is true, they tell them the end of their creation; but should they not also give them sufficient instructions how they may attain it? They should be taught to begin by an act of profound adoration and abasement before God; and closing the corporeal eyes, endeavour to open those of the soul: they should then collect themselves inwardly, and, by a lively faith in God, as dwelling within them, pierce into the Divine Presence; not suffering the senses to wander abroad, but withholding them as much as may be in due subjection.
They should then repeat the Lord's Prayer in their native tongue, pondering a little upon the meaning of the words, and the infinite willingness of that God Who dwells within them, to become, indeed, their Father. In this state let them pour out their wants before Him; and when they have pronounced the endearing word, Father, remain a few moments in a respectful silence, waiting to have the will of this their heavenly Father made manifest unto them.
Again, beholding themselves in the state of a feeble child, sorely bruised by repeated falls, and defiled in the mire, destitute of strength to keep up, or of power to cleanse himself, they should lay their deplorable situation open to their Father's view in humble confusion; now sighing out a few words of love and plaintive sorrow, and again sinking into profound silence before Him. Then, continuing the Lord's Prayer, let them beseech this King of Glory to reign in them, yielding to His love the just claim He has over them, and resigning up themselves wholly to His divine government.
If they feel an inclination to peace and silence, let them discontinue the words of the prayer so long as this sensation holds; and when it subsides, go on with the second petition, |Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven!| upon which these humble supplicants must beseech God to accomplish, in them, and by them, all His will; and must surrender their hearts and freedom into His hands, to be disposed of as He pleaseth. And finding that the best employment of the will is to love, they should desire to love God with all their strength, and implore Him for His pure love; but all this sweetly and peacefully: and so of the rest of the prayer, in which the Clergy may instruct them. But they should not overburden themselves with frequent repetitions of set forms or studied prayers (Matt. vi.7); for the Lord's Prayer, once repeated as I have just described, will produce abundant fruit.
At other times they should place themselves as sheep before their Shepherd, looking up to Him for their true substantial food: |O Divine Shepherd, Thou feedest Thy flock with Thyself, and art, indeed, their daily nourishment!| They may also represent unto Him the necessities of their families: but all upon this principle, and in this one great view of faith, that God is within them.
The ideas we form of the Divine Being fall infinitely short of what He is: a lively faith in His presence is sufficient: for we must not form any image of the Deity; though we may of the Second Person in the ever-blessed Trinity, beholding Him in the various states of His Incarnation, from His Birth to His Crucifixion, or in some other state or mystery, provided the soul always seeks for those views in its inmost ground or centre.
Again, we may look to Him as our Physician, and present to His healing influence all our maladies; but always without violence or perturbation, and from time to time with pauses of silence, that being intermingled with the action, the silence may be gradually extended, and our own exertion lessened; till at length, by continually yielding to God's operations, they gain the complete ascendancy; as shall be hereafter explained.
When the Divine Presence is granted us, and we gradually relish silence and repose, this experimental feeling and taste of the Presence of God introduces the soul into the second degree of prayer, which, by proceeding in the manner I have described, is attainable as well by the illiterate as the learned: some favoured souls, indeed, are indulged with it, even from the beginning.