Sometimes praying is like fishing. You go to the ocean or lake (the environment you create for prayer), bring your gear (Bible, prayer beads, etc), get comfortably situated—and wait. It may be, however, that you work hard at it and apparently come up with nothing. But perhaps you are still fishing in shallow water.
Jesus got into Peter’s boat to do a little preaching (which was actually fishing, in his own way). Afterwards, He said to Peter: “Put out into deep water and let down your nets for a catch” (Luke 5:4). Peter responded as we might, with just a touch of exasperation, if someone told us how to do our own job: “We have (already) worked hard all night and have caught nothing.” Though he didn’t really expect anything, Peter’s saving grace was in the next words he spoke: “But at your word, I will lower the nets.”
At the word of Jesus, everything changes, for even the wind and the sea obey Him. Peter knew his profession; he knew the logic of the time and the tide; he knew there wouldn’t be any fish there. But at Jesus’ word he let down the nets and suddenly he knew that God had visited his boat. He cried out a confession of personal unworthiness, as we also might do in the presence of the Mysterium Tremendum. Thus began a great, lifelong adventure for Peter and the other fishermen.
The experience of prayer, especially contemplative prayer, is like letting down your nets into the deep water. The surface may have its own charms, but the real treasures are discovered in the depths. You have to go to the place of the heart, the place of the divine indwelling, to discover the mystery of God. In the Eastern Christian tradition, contemplative prayer is sometimes described as “descending with the mind into the heart.” The goal is union of mind and heart, the two becoming one, and this “one” becoming one with God. In one sense, the mind is the net that is let down into the deep waters of the heart, so that our souls can be filled with the richness of grace, of communion with God.
Contemplative prayer is not something that you “do,” but the creation of an interior disposition and openness to let God do what He wills in and through you. Our efforts to make something happen in prayer are like Peter’s working hard and catching nothing. Our own notions about prayer and life in God are woefully inadequate. But if, by quietly listening to the word of the Lord, we let down our nets into the deep, descend with the mind into the heart—the place of stillness and presence—we will meet the Mystery; we will stand in awe of the undreamed-of wonder. There still may be long nights of waiting, but it will not be useless toil, for the Lord is near.
So let down your nets. Begin by letting down your defenses, your rationalizations, your ego-props, your fantasies of who you think you’d like to be. Then humbly listen—in your soul’s unaccustomed solitude, in the nakedness of your lack of self-defense—to the gentle call of the Master: put out into the deep. When you set aside human logic to obey the divine Logos, the deep waters will begin to yield their treasures.