Cynthia Long is a librarian, folklorist, and writer with a focus in Celtic folklore, mythology, and history. She earned her M.F.A. in Fiction from Rosemont College in Rosemont, Penn., in May 2016. In August 2017 she presented at Doxacon, the Orthodox Science Fiction and Fantasy convention, on the topic of fairy tales and the famous C.S. Lewis quotation that says, "Some day you will be old enough to read fairy tales again." Cynthia was Chrismated in September 2012 and attends St. George Church in the Philadelphia suburbs, where she tends the parish library.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince has long been one of my favorite books. If you are unfamiliar with this modern classic, it is a fable about an otherworldly prince who loves a rose and befriends a fox; the fox teaches him how to be a true friend. Peppered throughout the book are delightful aphorisms. Due to its simple style, it is generally considered a children’s book, or sometimes an introductory French language text (it was originally written in French), but its truths are ageless and timeless.
With great enthusiasm I recently encountered Metropolitan Anthony Bloom’s advice to revisit this favorite story. In his book Beginning To Pray, Met. Bloom discusses our perception of the apparent ‘absence’ of God. Of course God is not absent, he reminds, and gives examples of ways to cultivate prayerful attention. He closes a chapter with this suggestion, “. . . If you want to learn how one makes friends with God, learn from another fox in . . . The Little Prince . . .”
I scurried to my bookshelf to revisit it:
“ ‘You must be very patient,’ ” the storybook fox advises the little prince, and recommends to “ ‘come back at the same hour’ ” on subsequent days. Regularity and consistency are important in our prayer life. As with human friendship, consistency proves the seriousness of our intentions. “ ‘But if you come at just any time,’ ” the fox explains, “ ‘I shall never know at what hour my heart is to be ready to greet you.’ ” A regular time and place for our personal prayers helps ensure that our hearts may be ready to greet God.
The fox explains to his visitor that in order to befriend him, “ ‘. . .You will sit a little closer to me, every day . . .’ ” When we show such reliability, we can begin to inch closer to the object of our attention, just as the little prince approached gradually to befriend the fox. This literary illustration suggests that when we have consistent habits, our approach to God in prayer will be gradual and incremental. In life and in prayer, we shouldn’t expect instant results.
After they become friends, the fox shares with the little prince a secret, pronouncing one of my favorite expressions from the book: “ ‘It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.’” I had been drawn to this quotation since childhood, but now Met. Bloom’s recommendation suggested that I should give this favorite saying deeper consideration. I remembered that the heart holds great significance in Orthodox spirituality.
Jesus said, “The Kingdom of heaven is within you” (Luke 17:21). Within our hearts. I am beginning to learn what the Holy Fathers mean when they talk about the heart. St. Theophan the Recluse described the heart as our conscience, self-awareness, and awareness of God. He writes that the heart “is founded on the certainty of God’s existence, and in the awareness of our complete dependence on Him” (The Art of Prayer, p. 190-191). Our heart is the place where we encounter God. St. Theophan also recommended, “Get out of your head and into your heart, because if you stay in your head, God will always appear to you as an external reality outside of yourself” (quoted in Kies, p. 27).
Another name for the Jesus Prayer—“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”— is the Prayer of the Heart. Saint-Exupéry’s fox teaches patience and consistency and confides that we only see truly with our hearts. Met. Bloom’s appeal to The Little Prince can be seen as an appeal to pray regularly and consistently, to pray deeply and internalize the Jesus Prayer, and to open our hearts to God.
Bloom, Anthony. Beginning To Pray. N.Y.: Paulist Press. 1970. Print.
Chariton, Igumen and Kallistos Ware, eds. The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology. N.Y.: Faber & Faber. 1997. Print.
Kies, Christopher. “An Orthodox Response to Mindfulness.” The Word. Vol. 59 n.6 (June 2015). Page 27. Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America. www.antiochian.org. Web.
Saint-Exupéry, Antoine de. The Little Prince. N.Y. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. 1943. Print.
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