There really should not be a Traditionalist definition of prayer, because the Church already has a formal Spiritual Theology the includes the theology of prayer, methods of prayer, schools of prayer, movement of prayer, levels of prayer, forms of prayer, work of prayer, history of prayer, anthropology of prayer and the anatomy of the soul and prayer.
Different masters in Spiritual Theology have given us different definitions that really lead to the same thing. St. Teresa of Avila defined prayer as a conversation between friends. Catherine of Siena defines is a the journey toward the union between the soul and the divine. St. Bonaventure explains it as the mind’s journey into God. St. Francis de Sales says it’s lifting of the heart, mind and soul to God. St. Benedict explained it as the encounter between the human and the divine in silence. St. Francis of Assisi explained it as the soul’s desire to love Love. Bl. Mother Teresa explains it as walking in the dark. Augustine says that it’s searching for the Good when the Good has found us. And St. Ignatius of Loyola talks about being in the presence of God.
They are all correct. It’s a matter of perspectives. Prayer begins with a leap in faith. Henri Nouwen beautifully described the Christian life as living for and in the presence of the Beloved. Karl Rahner and Joseph Ratzinger once wrote that man is innately transcendent and he seeks God, because God is there and man seeks to return to God.
If we part from what Fathers Nouwen, Rahner and then Ratzinger said, man seeks the Transcendent, prayer is prayer is the mother and source of ascent. If we look at Dionysius, in his book, “Mystical Theology” we find “wishing to instruct us in mental elevation, prefaces his work by prayer. Therefore, let us pray and say to the Lord our God , “Conduct me,
O Lord, in Thy way, and I will walk in Thy truth; let my heart rejoice that
it may fear Thy name” [Ps., 85, 11], (Dionysius, Ch. 1, 13)
Spiritual Theology teaches us that prayer is the place where we begin to ascend toward the Transcendent, for which we innately seek, but as St. Augustine says, we can only do this, because God has already found us. In prayer, we come before a God who has, as St. Francis of Assisi said, “come to live among us.”
There is where the other explanations of prayer, provided by the Masters work. In this ascent to the God who has descended to us through the Incarnation, we engage with him as friend and as the Beloved. We do so by raising our hearts, minds and hearts to him, which becomes more perfect, more holy as we grow in interior silence as Benedict says.
Finally, we must remember what we read in the Itinerarium.
** By praying thus one is enlightened about the knowledge of the stages in the ascension to God. For since, relative to our life on earth, the world is itself a ladder for ascending to God, we find here certain traces [of His hand], certain images, some corporeal, some spiritual, some temporal, some aeviternal; consequently some outside us, some inside. That we may
arrive at an understanding of the First Principle, which is most spiritual and eternal and above us, we ought to proceed through the traces which are corporeal and temporal and outside us, and this is to be led into the way of God.**
We don’t leave out the world. We use the shadows of God found in the world as aids in prayer and we become proficient in prayer, these externals no longer serve us, not because they are bad, but because we have ascended beyond them.
Br. JR, OSF