I appreciated St. Ambrose in the Office of Readings today, from his treatise on Cain and Abel, as he explicates the Lord's teaching on prayer from Matthew 6:6: "But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret."
Sed intellege non cubiculum conclusum parietibus, quo tua membra claudantur, sed cubiculum quod in te est, in quo includuntur cogitationes tuae, in quo versantur sensus tui. Hoc orationes tuae cubiculum ubique tecum est, et ubique secretum est, cuius arbiter nullus est nisi solus Deus.
"But [by this 'inner room'] do not understand a cubicle bounded by walls in which your body can be enclosed, but the cubicle which is inside you, in which your thoughts are kept and your feelings turn over. This is the cubicle of your prayer. It is with you everywhere, and everywhere it is a secret. In it there is no one to judge you but God."
It's a pity that 'cubicle' in English is such an impoverished word, conjuring up images of drudgery, claustrophobia, and conformity. Because of the way we use it, it's easy to think that it comes from the word 'cube.' In fact, 'cubicle' derives from the Latin verb 'cubo, cubare,' to lie down. The cubicle is the little room where you lie down, your bedroom.
The place of prayer is an inner place, a space in which our spirit can 'lie down' and relax, because no judge but God has any access. Prayer, and indeed any of our attempts to relate our person to another personality, whether divine or human, depend on our awareness and cultivation of this space, of our inner cubicle. If we have forgotten about it or neglected it, we will not experience ourselves as a being separate enough from others in order to relate to them as a distinct person ourselves. Our relationships, including our prayer, become fawning, aggressive, or unchaste because we have ceased to be a self in relationship but only a consciousness reacting to another as another object.
By cultivating our awareness of our own inner cubicle, and the life of relaxation in it we call prayer, we also practice our mindfulness that the core of the other is also an inner cubicle. This is the root of genuine prayer on the one hand, and of charity and chastity in our human relationships on the other: the awareness of ourselves and each other person as rooted in an irreducible mystery to which only God has access.