Prayer: A bridge between longing and belonging
This page or indeed this website is not going to tell you how to pray, but hopefully encourage you to have a go… to see prayer in a different light and something that YOU can do and all you have to do is make yourself available to God, to be truly present and to listen with the ear of your heart, as St Benedict says. He also says ‘keep it short’!
To pray is to come into presence. It is about leaving the heavy emotional, cognitive, and ideological baggage outside the door. When you sit down and come into the presence it is then that you are most your self”. John O’Donohue, ‘Eternal Echoes’, 1998.
There was a very famous Abbot in this Diocese and whose two favourite maxims on the subject of prayer were these:
Pray as you can, and don’t try to pray as you can’t” and secondly, “The less you pray, the worse it goes”. Abbot John Chapman OSB
Abbot Chapman’s spiritual letters are well worth a read if you can get hold of a copy. They are letters to people like you and me working away at our daily tasks, living our lives in whatever circumstances we find ourselves living in, and finding it hard to pray. This is just as true for a lay person as it is for our parish priest – we can all struggle and prayer is not the reserve of those in holy orders!
We are blessed in our catholic tradition with writings on prayer and you only have to review this website to gain a sense of that richness. So great is this richness we could spend all our time reading about ‘prayer’ and not finding the time to get down to ‘doing’ it. We are constantly seeking the right school of prayer or ‘method’ or ‘technique’ of prayer. We can so devote ourselves to the method or technique that we can begin to lose sight of why we are praying or even fail to get started.
One question you may want to ask just now is ‘what is pray’ or as a recent visitor to our Diocese said ‘why bother praying’? The answer is simple but may be different for each of us. We may each find our own way of praying as Abbott Chapman suggests: – Pray as you can, and don’t try to pray as you can’t. Prayer is different for Martha as it is for Mary.
We need to switch our focus and start to see prayer as a way of life with the living springs of that life found in the scriptures (see Lectio Divina), and especially with the various ways in which anyone who faithfully prays is led into Christ’s Paschal Mystery and starts living the mystery. This suggests that prayer is about a real relationship with the Father. In relationships we invest time and energy… and that is what we need to do in our prayer. We make ourselves available to the Father so we can journey towards that ‘wholeness’. As Abbot John says: ‘The less you pray, the worse it goes’ and we know the less we invest in a relationship the more it starts to break down and people drift apart. On this journey we may find it helpful to find a ‘guide’ or what we may call a ‘spiritual companion’ (see Spiritual Direction). Prayer is something more than an exterior act performed out of a sense of duty, an act in which we tell God various things he already knows. It is much more and there is a great hidden treasure waiting for us if we can commit to sit with the Lord of life and listen, sometimes listening to what he is not saying. Prayer is the beginning of a lifelong conversation with God. To pray is to come into the presence of God. ‘It is about leaving the heavy emotional, cognitive, and ideological baggage outside the door.’ When you sit down and come into the ‘presence’ it is then that you are most your self and where you come home to yourself and to God. It is this ‘presence’ that God sees us as we truly are. This presence is the nearest thing to God the Father.
If you need evidence of this pick up a good translation of the psalms and spend sometime listening to what they have to say about this relationship with the father… How the people of God speak with him – this is a real relationship in the making… The psalms are prayers in human form, in which a whole range of human experience of joy, suffering, pain love and longing are poured out before God. They show us a way of speaking with the Father, in away that is truly human, in away that the two sons in the parable of the prodigal son spoke with the Father. They were able to express their inner-worlds. The psalms are sometimes known as ‘the monks prayer book’, as the express the whole range of human experience.
Prayer is in the main about Watching, Waiting and Wondering about what God may do next in our lives if we have the courage to let him in. It is what Mary Magdalene was doing on the first Sunday morning, watching, waiting and wondering what would happen next in her life. It could just as easily be called ‘Lectio Divina’ on Life…, which in part is about understanding the canvas of our lives…
You may find this YouTube link helpful. Studies have shown that everyone prays; even some atheists say that they pray. So what is prayer? What makes Christian prayer distinctive? Bishop Barron answers these questions and offers recommendations on how to improve your prayer life. Visit WordOnFire.org to learn more.