PART OF THE A Scottish Summer ISSUE

‘This simple and self-evident attitude towards life seems almost strange.’

What is prayer? Treading the sands of the Syrian desert and the shores of Saulkrasti, hiking across the Qadisha Valley and the ancient paths of Karyes, Johannes Hartl searches for answers. Through the stories of individuals, encounters and movements, Hartl explores approaches to prayer, calling us to draw near to a God who listens, loves, and longs to speak with us.


Extract from Heart Fire
By Johannes Hartl
Published by Muddy Pearl

Croatia, August 1994

My eyes sweep over the unfathomable reaches of the gleaming sea. I am sitting on a hotel beach in Croatia and my heart is filled with longing. Outwardly, my appearance is colourful, with long hair and brightly-coloured clothes, but inwardly, I am so stirred by my first experiences in prayer that I am on a painful search for more of God.

In these days on the beach I read a chapter that will shape my views on God and worship forever. I don’t understand a lot of it at the time. Even the chapter title – ‘He Who Reigns’ sounds really strange. The last sections of Romano Guardini’s The Lord deal with Jesus Christ in the depictions of his sovereignty and power in the Revelation of St. John. Not exactly light reading. But that does not bother me.

But now Romano Guardini opens up something like a 3D picture for me. Jesus’ speech from the throne, and before him twenty-four elders, also enthroned. A scene full of majesty and solemn peace. There they sit, kings before the one great King. But the natural reaction of those who sit enthroned before the One Ruler is to worship. Not because they must. Yet before the majesty and beauty of the Lord, everything that would be great and magnificent anywhere else becomes insignificant. They cast their crowns down. What a wonderful statement!

This picture and Guardini’s simple explanation have never faded from my mind. Everything starts, stands and falls with the art of seeing. Seeing the beauty of creation. The beauty of art. The beauty of a person. And ultimately, to see ever more clearly the beauty of the source of all of this other, created beauty. The beauty of the eternal God. And then the beauty of this one, unique person. The beauty of the man in whom God, in his fullness, became visible. Learning to see Jesus Christ. In his majesty, and his humiliation on the cross. Again and again this seeing produces the only appropriate reaction from the created: praise, homage, worship – prayer.

Sukosan, Croatia, August 2013

It’s summer again, and a year has passed in which I haven’t thought about anything as much as about what it means to love, what it means to pray in spirit and in truth and what it means to encounter the other and myself in reality.

Once again I am staring out across the sea, even if the view is less spectacular. I try to be fully present before God, before myself. All at once, like a ripe apple falling into my lap, I decide that, today, I want to be fully present. Not just in my morning prayer time, although I especially need to be present when I pray; only there do I learn to catch my breath and not lose myself, to not miss God’s presence in being. But it does not stop there. The small decision, but a major one for me, to just be there in these days on the beach. To be wholly present for my wife and my four children.­­­

It doesn’t feel special, starting the day this way. Nevertheless, the pink flowers on the side of the road seem pinker than before, the underbrush of thyme and bamboo seems thicker in the quiet of the Croatian morning. And then? The road to the baker. Breakfast in the loud, overflowing life of a young family. Playing card games. Reading stories, for hours. Paddling a rubber raft. Washing dishes. Reading another story. And quite consciously for these days: no media. No iPhone. No books, and no thought processes running in the back of my mind on how I could plan something major: just being there. Being there, with all the beauty of this abundant life and everything that gets on my nerves.

This simple and self-evident attitude towards life seems almost strange. And yet I get tears in my eyes the next morning when I resume my place between the bushes. I get tears of gratitude for an imperfect, but abundant life; for the gift of my children and my wife. I get tears of gratitude for the gifts of earth, air and being. The relationship with my children, and my joy in them, becomes deeper in these days. How much I can learn from them! They were already where I want to go! They can play for hours, be happy with what is: they can be. Awed, thankful, sometimes angry and loud, but always authentic, always themselves. The thankful, open-handed attitude toward life that characterizes play is like the simplicity and joy into which God wants to increasingly free the intercessor. The beauty of play. The purpose-free character of pure being. Nowhere is this more visible than when we’re praying, or when children are playing. The beauty of life that occurred to a loving God. To one who prays, the world becomes ever deeper and God ever greater.

Heart Fire: Adventuring into a Life of Prayer by Johannes Hartl is published by Muddy Pearl priced £14.99.

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