Thomas Merton compared prayer to a firework. Dialogueing or meditating is the shell being lit and sent up into the sky. For the prayer to explode like the firework into the colorful pattern it must have love. Whatever spiritual activity we may do, whether it is contemplation, rosary, petitioning, centering, lectio divina, it is not genuine prayer if we do not make an act of love for Jesus Christ. Merton says the activity without love would be more accurately described as self-reflection or self-psycho analysis. And this is merely the slight arc of a firework with no explosion; ultimately a dud.
Prayer perhaps seems difficult or burdensome because we focus on the launch and not the explosion. It is hard for us to sit still and do nothing. But prayer is something. It is not pure introspection. Nor is it self-hypnosis, another one of Merton's descriptions. Prayer is having a real relationship with Jesus Christ and making an act of love for him. We are not Buddhists, staring at a blank wall to empty ourselves. Prayer involves Another. Our Catholic faith assures us that Christ Jesus is not a cloak for something else. When we love the Lord, we are not really loving the concept of peace, or loving ourselves, or loving an antidote to anxiety, or some other underlying desire. No. Jesus is lovable in himself. When we love him in our spiritual activity, then we have prayed. If we make an act of the will, ultimately what love is—not conjuring up a feeling—then we shall have lit up the sky.