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Heart Transformed: Prayer of Desire

Heart Transformed: The Prayer of Desire  Rich in Details and comprehensive in its approach, The Heart Transformed: Prayer of Desire maintains a sustained focus on the Lord indicating a large variety of ways in which the reader can enter into a deeper relationship with God through private prayer. The tone is consistently gentle, encouraging and inviting, evoking a prayerful mood without being gimmicky or saccharine.

  The focus is on a flexible approach that takes its lead from the desire to draw closer work in the soul. This prayer of the heart can go on ceaselessly even when we are asleep. It carries us out of ourselves and leads to a kind of surrender and death to self that opens us to a new life in God following the lead of St. Augustine who said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.” Our receptivity to God’s work in us is key to our spiritual growth and sanctification. This work points the ways.

Table of Contents



Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that

I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

(John 4:14)

One human heart fully transformed is not a small thing.



Chapter I: Standing in the Need of Prayer

Our Hunger for the Living God

Getting Started: What is Holding You Back?

   I'm too busy.
   Only special people (e.g. saints and mystics) can experience God
   People who claim to experience God are often fanatics or crazy
   Feelings of embarrassment
   Feelings of guilt over our own sinfulness
   Fear that God will ask you to give up something you are attached to.
   Unthinking internalization of secular, materialistic worldview.
   Problems about what language to use
   Bad Experiences with Christians, especially those in positions of authority

Prayer of Presence

The glory of the Lord and the fear of the Lord
Approaching God: trust and docility

Chapter II: The Basics

General Suggestions

   Physical posture
   picture of self and God
   purpose of prayer
   attuning yourself to presence of God
   role of the mind
   Role of the body
   Role of the Imagination

Images I have found helpful

   Enemy occupied territory
   Drowning swimmer
   Prayer of Desire/ underground river
   Flower opening
   Drinking from a spring
   Nursing at the breast of God
   Prayer as like a dance
   Spousal imagery
   House or dwelling
   Clay in hands of potter
   Holy Spirit as Wind in the sail

Cultivating a meditative state of mind

Prayer routine and the prayers I use

Additional useful short prayers

Chapter III: Problems You May Encounter:


   My mind is wandering
   Do I really mean what I am saying?
   What if I fall asleep while praying?
   I ought to be able to handle things more myself and not bother God..
   Am I being selfish just coming to Him for help and comfort all the time?


   I donít feel anything happening.
   Sometimes I feel more upset after prayer than before it
   Prayer isnít working; I keep messing things up
   God must be fed up with me because I keep sinning
   Are there any signs that might indicate Iím on the right track?
   Why am I not feeling the wonderful consolations I used to experience?


   Non serviam
   The Glamour of Evil
   Particular Temptations


   Maybe it is just my imagination
   Maybe Iíve gotten in touch with a spiritual being that is NOT God
   Donít I just find the Christian God because that is what I am expecting?
   Intrusion of the third person perspective
   The ďNothing ButĒ Argument

Chapter IV: A Closer Look at Prayer

   The Jesus prayer
   Prayer of penitence
   Prayer of thanksgiving
      Using the Litany for intercession
      Intercession of the saints
   Praying in tongues
   Praying for guidance
   Integrating Prayer into Your Daily Activities

Chapter V: Christian Life

   The care and feeding of your imagination
   Seeking help
      spiritual direction
   Sin and suffering
   Right relationship with other people
      correcting others
   The hope to which we are called


   Creeds (Apostlesí Creed and Nicene Creed), some popular short prayers, and annotations to the prayers I use regularly (given in Chapter II)



 "As an Episcopal priest serving various churches over the past twenty-five years and a trained spiritual director in the Ignatian tradition, I have witnessed the yearning so many Christians have for a deeper prayer life. Resources that are both accessible to the average person, yet deep and comprehensive enough to be meaningful are rare. Now in Celia Wolf-Devine's excellent book, we have a unique resource that Christians can use to enter more deeply into this rich and fruitful life of prayer. Our lives, and our church, are richer for it."
- The Rev. Mark R. Moore, B.A., M.Div., M.Ed., J.D.

"There are many books on prayer, but this one stands out for its warm encouragement and for its reflection on how prayer relates to desire. Drawing on her training as a professional philosopher and many years of seeking God in prayer, Celia Wolf-Devine talks about prayer in a way that is accessible and engaging and very practical. She makes it easier to see how prayer fulfills desire and how prayer changes us in ways that we rarely expect but always make us more human and more ourselves. In my ministry as a priest, I know many young adults who are looking for guidance about prayer that is both solidly rooted in Christian tradition and tailored to the circumstances of contemporary culture. This could be the book for them."
- Nicholas E. Lombardo, O.P.

"There are many books on prayer. But Celia Wolf-Devine's is unique -- and uniquely necessary. Not only is it filled with sound practical advice about all aspects of the life of prayer; but it is also written by a gifted philosopher, uniquely capable of recognizing the role of mind as well as heart in the life of the spirit. The whole person prays. And it is the whole person -- mind, heart, intellect and will -- to whom Prof. Wolf-Devine speaks in this inspiring book."
- Ronald J. Tacelli, S.J., Boston College.

"As an instructor on prayer for the Oakland, CA diocese's School for Pastoral Ministry and Serra Catechetical Insititute, I highly recommend Celia Wolf-Devine's book as a practical guide on prayer, suitable for the classroom. The book is full of insightful descriptions of the process of spiritual growth that will help a teacher illustrate what occurs when we allow God's grace to penetrate our psyches. For instance, Celia describes spiritual wounds as healing, like physical wounds, "from the bottom up." Her discussion of the difficulties we all encounter in prayer, and her suggestions on how to counteract them, display a depth of understanding that can only have come from one who has honestly faced herself in an ongoing conversation with God. Useful analogies such as comparing God's judgment to "a light flooding into a dark place" give the reader easily remembered images of how to distinguish between correction from God and demonicially inspired self-condemnation. This book will have a great appeal to anyone who wants to grow more deeply in an intimate but honest relationship with the Being we are called to love above all others."
- Edith Black




The Heart Transformed: Prayer of Desire Amazon: "I seldom linger over books about prayer, because the contents, with lists of shoulds and hows, provoke a profound sense of inadequacy. The Heart Transformed takes a startlingly different approach, tying prayer to the intimacy of desire instead of the sturdiness of duty. Celia Wolf-Devine moves into the subject with a wealth of personal stories and humor that I found unexpected and delightful. The book also provided new models and challenges for prayer in a spirit of intelligent exploration, combined with respect for reality and trust in the Holy Spirit." †[see additional reviews] Ė Marika Smith, 2009


Alda House: The Heart Transformed†is a good introduction to Christian prayer that offers much to seasoned practioners of prayer as well." †[see additional reviews] Ė†Spiritual Life, Fall 2010.

more reviews available here.


Sample Chapter


Chapter I: Standing in the Need of Prayer

Part I: Our Hunger for the Living God

Christians understand God to be both immanent in the world (present at each point in it) and transcendent. Through revelation and through the incarnation (the Word became flesh and dwelt among us – Jn 1:14 ), God breaks into history from a place beyond the natural order of things. Unfortunately, people tend sometimes to go from one extreme to the other. In our cultural memory an emphasis on transcendence has been associated in people’s minds with a harsh and authoritarian type of spirituality, and therefore there has been a movement in the churches toward emphasizing God’s immanence and neglecting His transcendence. Some real good has come out of greater focus on the presence of God in our neighbors. Many churches provide worshipers with genuine fellowship, engage fruitfully in works of mercy (visiting the sick and prisoners, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, etc.), support and sustain families, educate children and engage in some constructive sorts of political action. But if we wall out God’s transcendence, we truncate Christian faith.

Encountering God in private prayer is, thus, particularly urgent at this time, because in it we can encounter the living God who saves and heals us – who meets us where we are. So, without belittling the good they are doing, we need to look at how contemporary trends in many churches are depriving members of something they very badly need. Articulating the problems will, I think, be helpful to believers (or would-be believers) who come away from church feeling vaguely dissatisfied and worrying whether perhaps there is something wrong with them because they are not full of joy and thankfulness and burning to go out and pour themselves out for others.

At the deepest level, I believe, the problem is forgetfulness of the transcendence of God. Yes, Christ is present in our neighbors, but He is also (as the Nicene Creed tells us) seated at the right hand of the Father and will come in glory to judge the living and the dead. If God is to nourish and form us anew, then it must be the true God and not one cut to our own measure. The loss of transcendence manifests itself in a number of ways: a decreased sense of reverence for God; less emphasis on personal devotion to Jesus Christ; silence about the hope of Heaven; an impoverished and distorted understanding of the sort of joy that Christians hope to find and manifest to others; judging the success of our efforts in too worldly and utilitarian terms; and a tendency to equate the church primarily with some particular group of believers or perhaps with the clergy. It is as though something three-dimensional has been flattened out to fit into two dimensions.

One of the signs of God's presence is a sense of awe, majesty and glory, which move us to bow in worship. This does not mean that God is not also intimate to us -- intimate in a way no one else can be -- but that this does not make Him our buddy or our "co-pilot" (as the bumper sticker puts it). The extraordinary juxtaposition of glory, awe, and transcendence on the one hand and intimacy on the other lies close to the heart of prayer, and we must not flatten out the spiritual dimension by letting go of either one. We must allow Him every intimacy with us, while still reverencing Him as God.

The crucial element of personal devotion to Jesus has tended to be neglected or else cultivated in a way that de-emphasizes His divinity. "Thee will I cherish, Thee will I honor, Thou my soul's glory, joy and crown." (In what follows, I will often cite hymns, both because they have been important to my own religious life, and because I believe that the songs we are made to sing in church often leave a far deeper impression on us than the sermons we hear.) These words from the ever popular "Fairest Lord Jesus"i convey something of the spirit of devotion appropriate to Jesus. But in a church I attended, the tune had been re-cycled to become a song oriented almost entirely to the pursuit of social justice. Believers are, it seems, being asked to do more and more with less and less. But it is only by staying close to Jesus, and entering into an ever deepening relationship with Him, that we can have the strength to go out and act in the world as He calls us to. There are no quick fixes. Our brokenness and neediness are very deep, and we can't just come to church for an hour a week and then rush out and give, give, give all week.

Traditional hymns of many Christian communities are full of images testifying to people's intimate devotion to Jesus. "Visit us with thy salvation, enter every trembling heart" (1940 Hymnal, # 479);ii "in the arms of my dear savior, oh there are ten thousand charms (The Sacred Harp, p. 312);" "where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in" (verse from ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’). Christ is eminently worthy of worship and devotion, and the more we are in right relation to Him, the more naturally these will come and the more we will find ourselves nourished and strengthened in worship.

"Holy, holy, holy; all the saints adore thee, casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea." "Earth's redeemer plead for me, where the songs of all the sinless sweep across the crystal sea." "And when earthly things are past, bring our ransomed souls at last, where they need no star to guide, where no clouds thy glory hide." These hymns from the 1940 Hymnal (#266, 347, 12) were important to me as a child, instilling in me a sense of longing for heaven. Or from the broader protestant tradition, there is the song ending "when in thy likeness I then shall awake, I shall be satisfied then,"iii or "There may I find a settled rest, while others go and come, no more a stranger nor a guest, but like a child at home.” “When shall I see my Father's face, and in His bosom rest?"iv "Oh, when shall I see Jesus and reign with Him above, and from the flowing fountain drink everlasting love? Oh had I wings, I would fly away and be at rest, and I'd praise God in His bright abode" (The Sacred Harp, p. 106).

Silence about the Christian hope of Heaven, then, is another way in which the sense of transcendence has gotten lost. Obviously human concepts are wholly inadequate to describe the afterlife with God, and the image of people sitting around on clouds playing harps, saints with halos floating over their heads, and angels with wings, has become more the subject matter for cartoons than anything else. Still, at the heart of Christianity is the breaking in of the transcendent into human history -- God giving Himself to us in Christ (“Emmanuel,” meaning God with us) -- in order to reconcile us with Him and draw us into communion with Him. It is that communion for which the human heart hungers -- not sitting around on clouds playing harps. And if one has a full-blooded understanding of God's transcendence, the fact that we cannot locate Heaven at some particular spot in space and time should not trouble us.

Another unfortunate result of the flattening out of the Christian worldview, has been a loss of the proper understanding of joy, and a tendency to confuse it with a kind of forced cheerfulness. Joy is the natural fruit of a deepening relationship with God, as when Jesus tells the disciples "I have food to eat that you know not of... my food is to do the will of Him who sent me" (Jn 4:34). Joy is a kind of soft glow given off when our inner lamp is burning with God's love, and it can be present even when we are experiencing sorrow or trials. It can express itself in exuberant ways sometimes; the psalms speak of the joyful shout of those praising God, and David danced before the ark of God. But there is no reason why it should always express itself in this way. We often come to God feeling broken, needy and even desperate. This may not be at the surface of our consciousness, but it often lurks just below consciousness and comes to the surface when we let ourselves relax and be open.v "Praise the Lord anyway" used to be a common saying among charismatics, and there is something to this of course (brooding endlessly about our troubles is something we need to let go of). But the addition of the word "anyway" introduces the necessary element of awareness that it can be difficult to do this sometimes. The cross and the resurrection are intimately connected in Christianity, and a spirituality that doesn’t acknowledge the reality of the cross makes religion look like a pleasant and rather childlike fantasy we indulge in on Sundays, but unrelated to our everyday lives. People in the throes of conversion or undergoing deep trials are especially likely to be driven away by forced cheerfulness, which is very unfortunate since they are particularly in need of God.

Christians, and especially those in positions of leadership, thus, need to be careful not to make those who are sorrowing (or perhaps just feeling overwhelmed and beset) feel judged, or to suggest that there is something defective about their faith if they are not exuding happiness, joy, and love to everyone around them all the time. Doing so makes them feel obliged to stuff down painful emotions instead of bringing them to the Lord to be healed, or worse yet to fake constant cheerfulness, which does not really cheer either them or others. True joy does not grate on the feelings of those bowed down by care or sorrow, but forced cheerfulness often does.

One source of this sort of forgetfulness of the importance of the cross in Christian life may be that people feel a need to dissociate themselves from certain negative stereotypes of Christians as people who are gloomy, guilt-ridden, and world denying. There have certainly been Christians who have erred in these directions, although sometimes they may appear to have these faults mainly to people who themselves err in the opposite direction. The Christian path, if followed faithfully may involve sorrow, an awareness of one's own guilt, and a realization of the transience of the physical world, but excessive gloom, brooding over one's guilt, and hatred of the body or the physical world are deformations of Christianity. In any case, spending one's energies trying to prove to the world that we Christians really aren't all the awful things they think we are is a mistake, since it gives others far too much power over us.

Another reason why Christians may feel a need to present themselves as glowingly happy all the time (or as one guru put it "happy, healthy and holy,") may be the emphasis that the psychotherapeutic community places upon being normal and adjusted. Psychotherapy has taken the place of religion in the lives of enormous numbers of Americans, with therapists being viewed in the way ministers and priests traditionally have been as physicians of the soul. And while there is much good in the various types of psychotherapy, and much that is not in direct conflict at least with Christianity, there is a sense in which they are in competition with it. For there is a distinctive Christian conceptual framework and vocabulary that we must not lose hold of if we are to remain Christian -- concepts such as sin, repentance, conversion, grace, redemption, being born again, new life in the Holy Spirit, bearing our share of the sufferings of Christ, trusting in God's mercy and His providence, the importance of prayer, intercession for each other, being a member of the body of Christ, performing works of mercy and charity, thirst for holiness and for the vision of God, etc. Secular therapeutic movements tend to focus more on positive thinking, self-esteem, and learning to take control of one's own life. Not that we should dwell on negative things, hate ourselves, or allow our lives to get totally out of control, but to the extent that the goods they focus on are to be attained by our own efforts and the creative power of our own minds (the New Age movement, especially, emphasizes the power of mind to create reality), they tend in a very different direction from Christianity.

If MY radiant wholeness and happiness is the end I have in view, we are dealing with something quite different from the Christian's desire that GOD be glorified. Those engaged in the former quest tend to make others feel that they are being looked down upon -- "I've got my act together, what's wrong with you?" But the saint is joyful because of his or her deepening experience of the glory of God and His love for us. When we encounter someone who projects this sort of joy it does not make us feel condemned, but engenders in us a hope that we too may find peace and healing in God's love. St. Augustine's distinction between the City of Man built on self-love and the City of God which is founded on love of God is, I think, another way of putting this same point.

The flattening out of the transcendent dimension of Christianity often leads us to measure our success too much in worldly terms, and a kind of utilitarian way of thinking creeps in. The vast dimensions of world hunger, oppression, violence, misery, and hatred (to say nothing of our own apparently intractable faults and sins) discourage us and make our small efforts seem a mere drop in the bucket. We should not neglect the practical dimension, and certainly political action can also be entirely appropriate. But we should not forget that there is a whole other dimension of reality that we cannot see. For, as God told Samuel when he instructed him not to anoint as king Jesse's older son who looked so very impressive and kingly, but rather the shepherd boy David, "I do not see as man sees" (1 Sam 16:7). Small things (in the world's eyes) may be major triumphs for God, and our prayers do far more than we know. One image I have heard is that we are looking at the tangled threads on the back of a tapestry, but do not know just what the picture being formed on the other side is. We must, then, avoid measuring everything in purely worldly and quantitative terms, and have faith that God can bring good out of whatever He permits to happen.

Finally, keeping the transcendence of God firmly in view enables us to get some necessary distance from what theologians call the "visible church."vi It is inevitable that outsiders will judge Christianity in part by the behavior of Christians, which is of course one reason why we must beg Him to transform us so that He can be manifest in us. But just because individuals, or groups of individuals (even in their "churchly" capacities), fail to be faithful to their Christian calling (sometimes in ways that deeply wound or even scandalize us) this does not alter the fact of God's love and mercy. Baptism makes the Christian a member of the body of Christ (along with all other Christians living and deceased) -- or as the Book of Common Prayer puts it, we are "very members incorporate in the mystical body of Christ." It is not a matter of joining some sort of club with those people. Thus we should try not to let the failings of individual Christians blind us to the broader reality of the body of Christ.

Keeping in mind that God transcends the visible church will also help protect us from another common deformation of Christianity in which spiritual life gets crowded out by (or worse yet viewed as subordinate to or instrumental to) Church politics, in such a way that our passion and zeal gets displaced onto particular political agendas instead of being directed toward God (this can be a problem even when the particular goals we are pursuing are good ones).vii We cannot, of course, wholly avoid the human level and the various sorts of liturgical and institutional decisions that are part of the daily life of the Church. But we should open ourselves to God in prayer over a sustained period of time and allow Him to direct us toward those works that He wants us to undertake. Frantic activism usually indicates that we have lost sight of the fact that things do not all depend on us and that there is a God who watches over His own.

Prayer is essentially a practice. There is no substitute for just sitting down and doing it. There are two reasons for this. First, prayer is a way of entering into relationship with God. Simply knowing things about prayer doesn’t accomplish this. And second, in order to enter into relationship with God we need to develop certain habits that facilitate God’s work in us – habits such as openness, trust, persistence, docility, thankfulness, and humility. And regular prayer is a way of cultivating such habits. We become the sort of people we are by what we do and not just through what we know. When I worked in the Harvard Philosophy Library I noticed that the books most frequently stolen were books on ethics, and a colleague of mine reported with horror that her students had cheated on their Social Justice final exam.

You may have tried to pray regularly before and become frustrated and quit. Don’t let that deter you from trying again. Sometimes timing is important. We have to come to a point where we fully realize our need for God and our powerlessness to help ourselves before we can have the sort of desperation and tenacity needed to pray wholeheartedly and stick with it. So long as we think that our lives are perfectly under control and that we know how to go about securing our own happiness and that of those we love, we are far less likely to undertake serious prayer. We need to realize that doing everything our own way has not and will not lead to our happiness, and sometimes it seems this lesson must be learned by trying to do everything our own way and making a mess of things (often more than once). Eventually, like the prodigal son, we come to our senses, and are willing to return home to our Father and acknowledge we've done wrong, that we need help badly, and that He knows the way better than we do. The proper sort of desperation should lead us to keep seeking, knocking, and asking -- emulating the widow who kept pestering the unjust judge until he heard her plea. You have to make time for prayer and be jealous for that time. People are often quite “religious” about their exercise regimen or about watching their favorite TV show, and devotees of Eastern religions commit significant blocks of time to meditation daily. Christians too should be willing to commit time to prayer on a regular basis. One way to do this might be to go to bed half an hour earlier and get up half an hour earlier to make time for prayer.