O God come to my assistance, O Lord make haste to help me."
The following text is quoted by St. John Cassian (Fourth Century) whose writings had a vast impact on the monastic movement in the Middle Ages. He in turn is quoting Abba Isaac one of the "Fathers of the Desert".
"I think it will be easy to bring you to the heart of true prayer. . . . The man who knows what questions to ask is on the verge of understanding; the man who is beginning to understand what he does not know is not far from knowledge. I must give you a formula for contemplation. It you carefully keep this formula before you, and learn to recollect it at all times, it will help you to mount to contemplation of high truth. Everyone who seeks for continual recollection of God uses this formula for meditation, intent upon driving every other sort of thought from his heart. You cannot keep the formula before you unless you are free from all bodily cares.
The formula was given us by a few of the oldest fathers who remained. They communicated it only to a very few who were athirst for the true way. To maintain an unceasing recollection of God, this formula must be ever before you. The formula is this: 'O God, come to my assistance; O Lord, make haste to help me.' (Psalm 69:2 DR; compare Ps 70:1 NIV; Cf Psalm 40:13 NIV.)
Rightly has this verse been selected from the whole Bible to serve this purpose. It suits every mood and temper of human nature, every temptation, every circumstance. It contains an invocation of God, an humble confession of faith, a reverent watchfulness, a meditation on human frailty, an act of confidence in God's response, an assurance of his ever-present support. The man who continually invokes God as his protector is aware that God is ever at hand.
Perhaps wandering thoughts surge about my soul like boiling water, and I cannot control them, nor can I offer prayer without its being interrupted by silly images. I feel so dry that I am incapable of spiritual feelings, and many sighs and groans cannot save me from dreariness. I must needs say: "O God, come to my assistance; O Lord, make haste to help me."
The mind should go on grasping this formula until it can cast away the wealth and multiplicity of other thoughts, and restrict itself to the poverty of this single word. And so it will attain with ease that Gospel beatitude which holds first place among the other beatitudes: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Thus by God's light the mind mounts to the manifold knowledge of God, and thereafter feeds on mysteries loftier and more sacred....And thus it attains that purest of pure prayers..., so far as the Lord deigns to grant this favor; the prayer which looks for no visual image, uses neither thoughts nor words; the prayer wherein, like a spark leaping up from a fire, the mind is rapt upward, and, destitute of the aid of the senses or of anything visible or material pours out its prayer to God. . . . " (Emphasis added.) This is the prayer of contemplation, or centering prayer as Fr. Pennington calls it.
Quoted by M. Basil Pennington, O.C.S.O., in Centering Prayer, Image Books (1980) pp. 27-28. This text is quoted here for religious and educational purposes only in support of our page on Awaken to prayer: how to pray and is part of the East Lewis County Catholic Community's web site. No other use is intended or permitted. Please visit our main index or site map to see all the pages we currently have online. This page was originally posted on 11/23/98.