But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret: and your Father who sees in secret will reward you (Matt. 6:6).
I’ve always understood this verse as a reminder that prayer was private instead of trying to impress others. When we see this verse in connection with the ones previously, that makes sense. However, I have discovered that as I look at the words from the original language, I see a more nuanced understanding.
We tend to understand words used in Scripture through our own cultural lens. However, our understanding of words changes within our own lifetimes. Think about the slang words used in older generations versus younger generations. In addition, a word in one language doesn’t exactly match a word in another. Often times, part of the original meaning can be lost in translation. Part of the joy of even an elementary understanding of Greek is learning these differences.
In this passage, Matthew writes about Jesus instructing those close by him in how to pray. He uses a form of the word pray that suggests a form of praying for themselves. It is considered a middle voice which implies doing the action in a way that benefits the one praying.
Then he gives a command that is an appeal to their will. Go into your room, shut the door, and pray. Interestingly enough, the word used for room is a secret chamber, an inner room, a closet. Jesus is instructing his hearers to intentionally go into this inner chamber.
Jesus continues on telling his hearers that the Father is in this secret place and sees what is happening there. The word used for sees actually communicates a constant seeing that is viewed as a true reality. The word used for secret can also be translated as hidden. The same root word is used to describe the hiddenness of the treasure or pearl in Matt. 13:44-45. Here the hidden treasure describes the Kingdom of Heaven and is of great worth.
It seems to me that Jesus is instructing his hearers to a deeper understanding than going into a private place to pray. Maybe this private place is deep within their own soul. I have found this quiet form of praying more consistent to what I sense in these words of Matthew and in my own faith journey. This private place seems to be even beneath my own thoughts and words.
Contemplative prayer, or more specifically Centering Prayer, has become an important part of my daily rhythm. It is in accepting the invitation to become quiet in order to hear God, to experience God’s love for me. This goes beyond a particular request, to a place of trusting God to meet me in this quiet place.
It is an invitation to let go of my own agenda, my own need to protect myself, and my ideas of how to meet my own needs. We all desire to belong: to be seen, heard, believed in, and known. As we let go of trying to meet these innate desires ourselves, we can rest in the truth of God’s personal love for us. This goes beyond what I know in my rational mind and into a lived out experience in my soul.
How do we become quiet in prayer? If you have ever tried to be completely quiet, you know it isn’t as easy as it sounds. Try setting a timer for 5 minutes to get an idea of how difficult it is. Once you intend to be quiet, all the thoughts, once held back by the busyness of life, come to the surface. So in the noisiness of our intention to be quiet, gentleness is the approach. It is important to remember that being quiet in prayer or practicing Centering Prayer isn’t something to strive toward, quietness isn’t something to achieve, and there isn’t a path to do this “right.”
Centering prayer is a much larger topic than can be handled fully here. I will discuss it in future blogs but experiencing it with others is beneficial. We do cover the practice in my spiritual formation groups and Contemplative Prayer and Journaling Retreats.
Some people in my previous formation groups have shared that life slows down for them. Nothing changes on the outside but the slowness, the place of rest, is on the inside amidst the chaos of the world around them. I wonder if this is the reward or benefit of going into our inner chamber that Jesus spoke about.
I would love to hear your thoughts as you engage this practice.
Hello, I'm Kathi Gatlin. Thanks for stopping by!