Henri Nouwen talks about prayer of the heart being a way of prayer in which we “descend with the mind into the heart, and there to stand before the face of the Lord, ever-present, all-seeing, within you.”
Imagine that: going into the very truth of yourself and seeing what is there, while simultaneously knowing Jesus to be there, too, gazing on what is there with you.
You may find this terrifying. And I think I did for many years in my life with God, too. We are often scared of the truth of ourselves, and inviting the God of the universe to see that truth with us can seem like a purely crazy thing to do.
Unless our view of the truth and our view of God with us in that encounter of truth changes.
I really love noticing the way Jesus encounters people in the pages of the gospels when considering this.
When Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at the well, he’s fully present to the conversation. He listens and genuinely responds to everything she says to him and asks of him. And then, in the midst of this conversation, he speaks the truth of her life to her: she has had five husbands and is now living with a man who isn’t her husband.
First she finds out that all this time he’s been talking to her, he’s known this truth about her and still continued the conversation. And then, when he speaks this truth out loud, he does so in such a measured tone.
There’s no condemnation in his words, only the spoken truth.
And what’s more, even after he speaks this truth to her out loud — the truth that made her an outcast in her community — he goes on to continue their conversation.
This must have totally turned the woman’s world upside-down.
Not only did someone speak to her without flinching or castigating her for the thing that made her a social pariah, but the person behaving this generously toward her, she soon came to find out, was the long-awaited Messiah. No wonder she ran into the village and started telling everyone she met about him!
And then there’s the example of the woman caught in adultery.
When the Pharisees dragged this woman before Jesus, his eyes don’t blaze in fury, nor does he hurl her from his presence in disgust. Instead, he kneels down and begins to write in the dirt with his finger — so calm and unobtrusive a response — while continuing to listen to the badgering crowd.
Then he makes a calm-as-can-be comment to them, straightens up, and asks the woman where her accusers have gone.
Just like what happened with the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus has a direct encounter with this woman who was standing before him in the naked, unhidden truth of her sin, and his response was not to flee or rail or turn away in disgust or cast her from his presence. Instead, he calmly and quietly asked her a question as they hold the truth of her life out in the open between them.
There is a calmness to Jesus in these encounters that teaches us so much about what it is really like to encounter the truth of ourselves with Jesus, too.
Jesus is not afraid of the truth of your heart. He will not turn away from any of the truth that you encounter there. He will not minimize it or pretend it isn’t there, either. He will look at it, and then he will look at you, and then the two of you will look at it together.
And then you’ll talk. And you’ll continue to talk. And his posture toward you will never change.