Prayer of the Heart

Meeting notes for 30 January 2017.

Br. Erik initiated a discussion on the Prayer of the Heart based on the essay Essence of the Prayer of the Heart. It is recommended that this be part of your daily prayers and meditations. Christians can recite the Jesus prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.” The author, Olga Louchakova, points out that the prayer of the heart is also part of other traditions; so non-Christians can find their own mantra.

To do the exercise, place your attention on the prayer while reciting it interiorly. Simultaneously, keep attention on the body. Ultimately, attention will be placed on the heart, specifically the upper right ventricle. In the interim, keep attention on another body part, e.g., the hands. It may be of interest to refer to the insights of Oscar Hinze regarding the Heart Chakra.

There are several points in Letter XXI that can be discussed for next time, beginning on page 613. The most important, of course, is the role of Christ. He is neither an Avatar bringing a Divine message down to mankind, nor a Buddha, who rises up from the human condition. According to Tomberg, Christ brought not just a divine birth but also a divine death, an expiatory sacrifice. This leads to the idea of an alchemical transformation of the world, not merely liberation from it.

Jesus Christ is the complete unity of intellectuality and spirituality, which is the “germination of the Christic seed in human nature and consciousness.” Tomberg calls this the Christianisation of mankind, by which is meant “a qualitative transformation of human nature and consciousness”. It is possible that Tomberg here is a bit too sanguine, even if a Bodhisattva comes to save us.

The reference to St. Ignatius of Loyola is intriguing, since he maintained “a perfect equilibrium between the world of mystical revelations and the world of human tasks and actions”. That is a useful model to follow.

Tomberg makes a fruitful distinction of three levels of logic.

  • Formal logic deals with logical and mathematical relationships based on quantity while ignoring the qualitative aspects. This is what is meant by logic today in academic circles.
  • Organic logic takes functional differences into account. For example, people cannot be treated as though they were identical hydrogen atoms or mathematical points. Rather each one has a functional relationship to a larger whole.
  • Moral logic goes beyond the preceding two to the realm of values and qualitative differences. A postulate of formal logic is that “you cannot derive an ‘is’ from an ‘ought’”. Moral logic approaches it a different way: Given the existence of moral values and duties (‘ought’), what must the world be like (‘is’)? Kant, for example, inferred the existence of God, free will, and the immortality of the soul from his experience of the Categorical Imperative. Tomberg asserts that is simply the divine image in man.

    For those of a philosophical bent, the idea of a moral logic can be found in some recent works, even if not so explicitly stated. John Leslie, in Infinite Minds, basing himself on the Platonic notion of God as the Good, postulates that the cosmos exists because there is an ethical need for it. Thomas Nagel, in Mind and Cosmos, speculates about the nature of a cosmos in which “moral realism” exists, i.e., an objective moral code.

Finally, Tomberg ends the letter with an extended discussion of prayer and meditation, whose union is the “alchemical marriage”. We began with the prayer of the heart; I hope soon we can consider the Three Conversions in the spiritual life as described primarily by St. John of the Cross. He has a prominent role in the Letters. That will lead to the topic of meditation, particularly what Tomberg writes about the contemplation of the seven stages of the passion.