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Introduction to Prayer
Prayer is our personal response to God’s presence in our lives. It is a privileged context for experiencing God. In prayer, we intentionally pursue our relationship with God. Like any relationship, it needs to be attended to and nurtured. When we pray to God, we spend time with Him by sharing our stories and listening to what He has to say with an open mind and heart. When we approach God in prayer, we acknowledge that God speaks first and in gratitude, we respond to God in love. The focus is always on God and what God does.
There are many different forms of prayer. For example, there is the church’s public prayer. This includes the Eucharist (mass) and the Liturgy of the Hours
(Divine Office for religious). Then there is private prayer. This might take the form of formal prayers like the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Act of Contrition or any one of many formal prayers, some of which we might know by heart. As well, there may be others which are written in various books of prayer. However, private prayer also includes talking to God in our own words whether we do this out aloud or just in the silence of our own hearts.
Prayer is more than just talking to God or simply asking for things. Prayer is attentively listening to God. Paying attention is not easy and requires effort. In paying attention, we have to first stop and be aware of our surroundings. We need to let go of being preoccupied with ourselves and make the effort to let God take our attention. In doing so, we are first paying attention to what is outside us; then we are paying attention to what is going on inside us as a direct result of paying attention to what is outside us. We listen first, pay attention, and open our hearts and minds to the deeper dimensions of our experiences where we encounter God. (Gula 292-306)
Along with having a variety of types of private prayer there are also a variety of methods that we can use to help us pray. The Rosary and the Stations of the Cross are methods of prayer that are familiar to us. Other methods of prayer can also help us recognize God’s presence in our midst and facilitate growth in our spiritual life. The following are just three methods that have a long history in the church and are in common practice today.
Centering prayer is a contemplative prayer method that helps us open our hearts to the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. In this form of prayer, we spiral down to the very core of our being. We do this by choosing a sacred word or symbol. We might choose the word holy or peace or God or love or hope or any other word with which we feel comfortable. The words we choose do not contain anything magical. The word is simply a sign of our intention to consent to God’s presence and action within us. You sit comfortably with your eyes closed and silently begin to reach out to God in love.
Whenever you become aware that your mind has wandered off onto other thoughts (which it will do frequently), then you begin to say your “sacred word” silently to yourself as a way of refocusing your attention on God. Once you have become conscious of God again, then you can stop repeating your sacred word and simply become silent again with your mind and heart focused once again on God. As you become quieter, the Holy Spirit becomes more alive within you. It is the point of stillness within where we most experience being created by a loving God who is breathing us into life. (Bergan and Schwan 4)
Lectio Divina is a method of prayer by which a person listens with one’s heart to God’s word in scripture, experience and creation. This method of prayer goes back to ancient times and was used constantly by the early monks. It is one of the precious treasures of Benedictine monastics and oblates.
Lectio Divina is a natural process whereby one begins to listen with the heart to a word, phrase, experience or event that resonates within one’s self. Lectio Divina involves a four-step process.
Step 1: to identify the word, phrase or experience that you want to reflect upon. For example, you might choose a passage of scripture. When you read the passage you ask yourself what struck you as you were reading. It might be a word or phrase or an image from the text. Since it caught your attention as you were reading, you would then go back to that part of the passage.
Step 2: involves you taking a little time to ponder or think about the text with both your mind and your heart. This process is known as meditation.
Step 3: involves a response of the heart known as oratio. This might take the form of a prayer that you would say to God based on what you have been thinking or feeling about the text you have been pondering. This prayer might be a petition for something you desire from God based on what the text has been saying to you. For example, you might be asking God to have mercy on you or to deepen your faith or to help you love more or some such thing. Or it might be a prayer of praise or a prayer of thanksgiving.
Step 4: to simply rest quietly in God. This is known as contemplation. The whole process can take as much or as little time as you desire. (A Dictionary of Terms About Prayer 7)
Lectio Divina enables you to discover in your daily life an underlying rhythm between spiritual activity and receptivity which increases our ability to offer more of ourselves and our relationships to God, and to accept the embrace of God who is revealed in the person of Jesus Christ.
When we journal within the context of faith or God’s presence, it is meditative writing. Once we place pen on paper, spirit and body cooperate to release our true selves. To journal is to experience ourselves in a new light as expression is given to the fresh images that emerge from our subconscious. Journaling requires putting aside preconceived ideas and control and in so doing, affections are stirred within us. Memories are recalled and convictions are clarified. As a result, emotions may become intensified and prolonged. Emotions such as joy, gratitude and hope or fear, anger, or resentment may surface. Hence, journaling can serve to identify these hidden and surprising emotions.
There are many different ways of using journaling in prayer. Among them are the following:
- Writing a letter addressed to God;
- Writing a conversation between oneself and an event, experience, or value; and
- Allowing Jesus or some other person from scripture to speak to us through the pen (Bergan and Schwan 5)
"Contemplation", A Dictonary of Terms About Prayer, 1998
Bergan, Jacqueline S. and S. Marie Schwan, "Love: A Guide for Prayer" Take and Receive Series, Winona: St. Mary’s Press, 1988, 4-5.
Gula, Richard M. “Using Scripture in Prayer and Spiritual Direction.” Spirituality Today Winter 1984, Vol 36, No. 4, 292-306