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Different Kinds of Prayer

Sister Doreen’s Reflections

SSJD photo of window in chapel of the Church of St. John the Divine, Victoria, BC.

Prayer is often perceived as a difficult, “place-less” exercise in which we close our eyes and seek God beyond our everyday experience in an invisible, ethereal realm. It does not have to be this way, however. Prayer can have its own sense of place – landscapes which we can inhabit and explore, different ways and encounters and experiences, where we can meet God as tangibly as we might meet a fellow traveler.

Perhaps we find ourselves thinking ‘but I don’t know how to pray’. The disciples asked Jesus a burning question born out, I believe, of that same feeling – I don’t know how to pray. Jesus’ answer was simple – ‘when you pray’. And while Jesus went on to give them a pattern for prayer in what we now call the Lord’s Prayer, I really believe Jesus was saying to them ‘you learn to pray by praying’.’

Henri Nouwen said: “Listen to your heart, it’s there that God speaks most intimately to you. Praying is first and foremost listening to God, who dwells in the very depths of your heart, [who is all around you]. God doesn’t shout, doesn’t push. God’s voice is an unassuming voice, very nearly a whisper, the voice of a gentle love. Whatever you do in your life, go on listening to the voice of God in your heart. This listening must be an active and very attentive listening, for in our restless and noisy world God’s loving voice is easily drowned out.”

Henri Nouwen goes on the make the same assumption, learn to pray by praying; learn to listen for God’s voice by listening, setting aside time to actively and intentionally listen. So many of us have believed that it is up to us to pray in a way that reaches God, but I believe that we are in the presence of God at all times, and prayer is being attentive to that presence, and in a very  real sense letting God reach us! And sometimes the way that we have prayed also begins not to seem to be working for us, and we wonder what to do.

It was Mother Teresa who said “Prayer is putting yourself in the hands of God”, I believe there are many different ways of placing ourselves in the hands of God. There are many different ways of praying, of learning to listen to God in our daily life, of seeing the world through the eyes of God. All of the different ways of praying have their own merit, whether you are looking for quiet time, for prayer with others, for healing prayer. Whatever helps you to best listen to the voice of God in your heart, whatever way helps you to be attentive to the presence of God which is always all around you.

The Lord’s Prayer was a model that Jesus gave to the disciples and it can be shortened to look like this:

Adoration or Praise: praising God for who God is
Confession or Repentance: humbly acknowledging any short comings
Thanksgiving: Praising God for what God has done and expressing gratitude
Supplication or Asking: asking God to provide for your needs or the needs of others
Yield: placing yourself and your life in the hands of God

All forms of prayer, and over the next few weeks we will look at several different ways of praying, have at their heart a movement through these different postures or aspects as a model of prayer. All are a means of placing ourselves in the hands of God, of learning to listen to God in our daily life, of seeing the world through the eyes of God.

In sharing these reflections, I believe that it is important to remember, as Joan Chittister writes: “Prayer is not merely to be said, it is to be internalized, to be done consciously, so that our mind and our heart are focused at one and the same time on God. In asking God to teach us to pray, we become one with the God we seek even before the prayer begins. Prayer is not a ritual; it is a giving over of the self to the sacred presence and incomparability of God in the human soul”.

It is also good to remember that prayer is not a holy marathon! It is meant to be a deep and slow and conscious immersion in the Word of God as it comes to us here in this particular moment, this particular circumstance we find ourselves in. It is to break us open to the God of now!

Joan Chittister remarks on the Lord’s Prayer and the model it holds out to us for our prayer in a way that is worth pondering: “The prayer that Jesus gives to us disciples is designed to heal and cement and ease the pain and struggle of life – of community life, family life, global life – where we all live together at one another’s expense.” And Meister Eckart said “if you only said ‘thank you’ it is enough”

Prayer is meant to keep us in touch with the presence of God every moment of our lives, the difficult and confusing times as well as the happy and contented times. It reminds us that God is present in the darkness of our lives as well as the light of our lives. It reminds us to call on God for strength and hope in each circumstance of life no matter how hard our trust is put to the test.

I have already shared some reflections on Lectio Divina, Contemplative and Centering Prayer. I will include these again in this series as refreshers! Then also a couple of other way that we might place ourselves in the hands of God.

This is just a few ways that might be helpful to spend time doing a little reflecting:

  • Praying with Icons
  • Praying with beads
  • Visio Divina
  • Prayer of Lament and chanting
  • Intercessory Prayer
  • Prayer Walks and the labyrinth
  • Drawing and art work and making mandalas
  • Prayer Journaling
  • Personalizing Scripture

For each of us, there is an open opportunity to place ourselves in the hands of God in a number of ways.

Prayer is the place of refuge for every worry, a foundation for cheerfulness, a source of constant happiness, a protection against sadness.