Monday, November 26, 2012
FIVE BASIC POINTERS ON PRAYER
The image above is part of a illustration by F. Cayley-Robinson from Cardinal Manning's translation of the Fioretti.
Rebuilding one’s prayer life is a regular part of the struggle to remain faithful to Christ for some of us. We wander off, get lost, lose focus or get distracted and prayer takes a back-seat. Then we have to rebuild and re-establish the patterns without which life becomes chaotic and disjointed.
Remember above all that everything depends on grace - without the help of God we are incapable of doing or achieving any good. It is God who prays in and through us - the Holy Spirit makes our prayer the prayer of Christ the Son to the Father. He makes our prayer possible. He makes our prayer to be prayer.
On a more practical but less sublime level:
1. Time. One has to give time to prayer. It cannot be packed into the odd leftovers of the day. Each of us is different though. We differ in age, gender, experience and health, in the business of our life, and in our openness to grace. That means we will not all give the same amount of time to prayer everyday, or have the same time of day or even have the same pattern of prayer time throughout our lives. Still one must make time for prayer, quality time. It may mean, for many of us, getting to bed earlier so that we can get up earlier to pray. It may mean we start with fifteen minutes and only slowly expand that time. Like anyone getting fit one must put in the time and the effort.
2. Space. Most people do not have the luxury that I have of easy access to an oratory. Often prayer must happen in the bedroom, sitting room or parlour, on a bench in a park or at the back of a cold church before morning Mass. Whatever space we have it ought to be quiet, free from distractions and not so warm that we fall asleep nor so cold that we freeze. Having a ‘prayer corner’ can help. Such a ‘corner’ can be a spot with the bible or our missal, a crucifix or an icon, a candle but whatever is there it is a space where only our prayer things go. It is separate from the rest of the room and sacred. It helps us make the transition to a prayerful state of mind. Likewise a favourite spot in a church or a park can help us establish the habit of prayer, the practice of quietly listening to God.
3. Preparation. Too often we jump straight to prayer. Sometimes we are ready but more often we are not. We forget that we are fallen creatures easily distracted, easily caught up in the unnecessary like Martha rather than focused on the Lord like Mary. Have set prayers to prepare such as an invocation of the Holy Spirit. Take some moments to breath and focus on what you are about to do, whom you are about to address.
4. Content. Unlike the meditation of Eastern religions Christian prayer has content. We are spending time with the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity and the Court of Heaven. By baptism we have this extraordinary privilege of praying to the Father, through the Son in the Holy Spirit. Our prayer, even if it is only a phrase from the Gospel or a repeated prayer always has something to it. It is never simple attending to what is as in Zen meditation. It never seeks to be without thought or to lose awareness. We are in relationship with God, Three in One, and love draws us on deeper and deeper into that Mystery.
5. Perseverance. Never forget to end the prayer with an act of thanksgiving. Prayer is a gift from God. Remember too that every day is different. There are good ones and bad ones. There are days when we are sick, busy, distracted, worried or hurt. There are visitors, disturbances and unexpected alterations to our lives. Prayer that adapts and still keeps going is prayer that will last and have an effect. When we turn from prayer to do an urgent work of mercy or charity it becomes a powerful prayer in itself. Prayer that is genuine draws us closer to genuine love for God and charity toward our neighbour.