As the deer pants for flowing streams
What does the inner life look like of one who is making progress in the spiritual life? Psalms 42 and 43 give us a peek.

Such a one is consumed by a burning desire for God, a desire so strong that it may be compared to a deer’s desire for water in a dry and thirsty land. It overwhelms every other desire. It is a desire to see God, to be in his unmediated presence, to see his face.

Such a one, in a dry place, remembers better times—times of going up to worship with the throng, of being in God’s presence. Times of shouts and songs of thanksgiving. These memories help to firmly place hope where it should be, in God.

In that dry place, such a one is overwhelmed by the roar of a waterfall, tossed around by waves and billows. How can the desert be a place of waves and billows? Maybe this land is only dry and deserted on the surface.

When enemies oppress, when wounds afflict, when adversaries taunt or slander, when God seems absent, when soul is cast down and disquieted, such a one remembers God, the rock of salvation, helper, steadfast lover. Such a one prays by day and sings songs of praise by night. God’s light and truth lead such a one to God’s holy hill, to his dwelling, to his altar, with exceeding joy, with music, with praise.

Do you desire to pray by day and sing songs of praise by night? How does one pray continuously, as Paul directs, when business and busyness and the bustle of the world demand attention?

Earworms. If you can get a song of praise looping in your head, you can quite literally pray continuously, even while attending to other business. Or it can be a short prayer, attached to some other repetitive or frequent activity, such as your breath cycle. Three classic Christian books give different approaches based on this idea:

  • The Way of a Pilgrim, a fascinating narrative of a Russian peasant wandering through Russia and Siberia, learning to continuously repeat the Jesus prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me”)
  • The Cloud of Unknowing, in which the author recommends repeating a name of God to bring to mind our love for God and our desire for his will in a non-verbal (univerbal?) way (available on CCEL)
  • The Parable of the Pilgrim, in Suso’s Little Book of Eternal Wisdom [which you should now read]

Harry Plantinga

Harry Plantinga is a professor of computer science at Calvin College and the director of ccel.org and hymnary.org.