Prayer is unfamiliar territory to many people, even those reared in spiritual communities. Many fear they’re not up to the task, having heard eloquent prayers of others. Some progressive Christians doubt the effectiveness of prayer. So I thought I’d jot down some simple guidelines from my reading and experience to prompt but not limit readers’ personal practice and experience of prayer. Take these suggestions less as prescriptive than descriptive. And if any sound too preachy, just go on to the next!
Prayer takes you to another place. There are many ways of saying this. Prayer may lift you up, take you deep within, broaden your horizon, make you feel close to God and all that is, or all of the above. The vital thing is that, in your spiritual imagination, your perspective changes, enlarging or focusing, withdrawing or connecting, detaching or more deeply involving. And it brings us into proximity with our better selves.
Prayer consists of words, silences, and actions. Most of us know about words and silences in prayer and meditation, but actions may prove a new understanding. I believe that Martha in the kitchen preparing a meal could be praying as much as Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet and pondering his words. And I don’t mean Martha is saying the rosary while cooking, but that cooking itself may be a form of prayer when conscious intention is there, as is true of acts of justice and compassion. To stretch our imagination further, I believe lovemaking may be a form of prayer.
Prayer is presence, mindfulness, and listening. Prayer is a time to be attentive to surroundings, people, feelings, the day’s expectations, God’s hope for you—listening for God and your inner voice in all of them. Repetition of short scriptures (such as “God is love.”) or meditative chants may help one’s focus.
Readings are helpful to praying regularly. What helped me keep to a regular prayer time was the use of reading material that made me want to sit down and set aside time for reflection—that’s why half of the dozen books I’ve written consist of daily meditations. Scriptures, books of prayers or reflections, spiritual or theological or biblical treatises, and even op-ed opinion pieces have proven aids to meditation and prayer. Others may find poetry, art, or music helpful.
Saying the Lord’s Prayer is sufficient. The prayer that Jesus taught his disciples has every ingredient needed in prayer. Having said it daily for most of my adult life, I still wonder at how new meaning comes to familiar phrases, given where I am and what my experience is. I see it less as a prayer asking for things like bread and forgiveness than as a way of aligning myself with the inbreaking commonwealth of God, in particular being gracious as I have received grace. As Thomas Keating has recommended, if one can’t pray anything else, say the Lord’s Prayer.
Less is more. Too many words, too many “issues,” too many confessions, too many requests make prayer burdensome and more of a duty than an experience of God’s grace and love. An abundance of thanksgivings can lighten the load, as long as they are not simply obligatory.
Prayer transforms you, not God. The Desert Fathers and Mothers held this view; prayer is about our transformation, not God’s. When we pray for someone who is ill or in prison or mistreated, I do not believe God “fixes” these things, but that we become better caregivers, liberators, and advocates.
Enjoy being God’s beloved child. Join Adam and Eve walking naked with God unashamedly in the Garden, Isaiah comforted and dandled on Mother God’s knees, and Jesus hearing “You are my beloved on whom my favor rests.” Prayer is the pleasure of basking in the glory of God’s unconditional love, remembering God’s best hopes for us and the world.
Copyright © 2012 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Suggested uses: personal reflection, contemporary readings in worship, conversation starters in classes. Please click here to learn more about this ministry and/or make a donation!