How to pray II: Okay, I'm kneeling, now what?

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Got a little long winded on prayer last week – sorry. It’s like an oral exam when the teacher asks an unexpected question. We may not have a great answer, but we go on and on to show you know something

This time, I’ll keep this short – three questions on prayer and three answers. (1) It’s not that easy, any suggestions? (2) Okay, I’m kneeling (sitting or standing for that matter), now what? And (3) Where can I read more about this?

It’s not that easy, any suggestions?

Preparation is huge. If we simply plop down on a chair and expect to enter into mystical communion with God, we better think again.

It’s just like any serious conversation. we have to thinks things out ahead of time. What do we want to talk about? What are the main points? Is there some specific question that we have? It’s not about creating a strait-jacket for our prayer, but we have to put time and effort into it. Then obviously we open ourselves to God’s inspiration and initiative.

Place is important. Catholic Christian prayer involves the whole person, body and soul. So where you pray is important. Pilgrimages are special spots for prayer, but perhaps the best spot is with the Eucharist.

It can also help to have a personal spot set aside exclusively for prayer. We might not have a room to spare in the dorm, but at least we can have a chair and an image of Christ or something to designate sacred time and space.

Silence is crucial. But we’ll leave this for next week.

Okay, I’m kneeling, now what?

Start strong in Him

We’re in God’s presence. He’s there whether we recognize him or not. Even if we’re checked out, he’s wants to talk. Preparation is a must, but at the end of the day, HE’s the important one.

He’s our Creator, Redeemer, and constant companion, and beg his love and mercy. Keep it real. Many saints recommend renewing our faith, hope, and love – they allow us to talk to Christ. Ask him for the grace and the strength to stay focused and listen. Ask Mary and St. Philomena (or whoever your favorite saint is – she was St. John Vianney’s) to help.

Dive in

Then we just start talking. There are a variety of different “methods” than can help. But they are just that – possible methods. Here are the basics of two common methods to get you started – lectio divina and the Ignatian method of meditation.

Lectio divina just means a prayerful reading of scripture and applying it to our lives. There are lots of different varieties, but it basically consists in a five step process.

1. Reading and listening. We need to start out with a slow attentive reading of God’s word, listening in our hearts. What’s going on? Why? We read it over a number of times until some part or word jumps out

2. Meditation. Just like Mary, we take what jumps to our attention and “ponder these things in our heart”. We don’t need a lot of material, but “what does Christ say to ME”?

3. Prayer. This is the actual dialogue with Christ. We’ve heard something in the Word of Scripture. Jesus extends an invitation to us, and we respond to what he is asking. We speak personally about our lives, what he wants from us. It’s not abstract – what did Christ do, and what does he call us to?

4. Contemplation. Then it helps to stop talking and just be with Christ. It can let him get a word in edgewise, and other times we simply enjoy his presence.

5. Action. Prayer should transform our lives. What does Christ want us to do? How can we continue to respond to his invitation in our daily lives? We make a concrete commitment – realistic and challenging – that will stay with us for the day.

Ignatian meditation is based on what St. Ignatius of Loyola is writes in his spiritual exercises. These are the basic steps.

1. Preparation. We already talked about Starting Strong – putting ourselves in God’s presence and renewing our faith, hope, and love.

2. Composition of place. Just like the physical place is important, so is the spiritual one. It helps a lot to use our imagination to recreate the scene. We can see the apostles, hear them talking, feel the grass beneath their feet, smell the fresh sea breeze. It’s not make believe, but realizing that the scene and event is even more real than our imagination.

3. Petition. We ask God for some specific grace. What is the subject of our conversation going to be? This will be the refrain throughout the whole prayer. Repeating it really helps when we are distracted.

4. Material and points. We can base the body of the meditation on a biblical passage, a text from a good spiritual book, traditional prayers, a situation in our life, and so on. We center our reflection on a couple aspects that will help us to better understand and dialogue with Christ about the grace we need.

5. Colloquies. Throughout the main part of the meditation, we should take moments to talk heart-to-heart with Christ, telling him what we think and asking for help.

6. Resolution. After asking Christ for the grace, reflecting, and listening to what he says to us, what are we going to do? What specific action will bring us closer to him?

Finish stronger

In both of the methods, there is an action or resolution. Prayer can’t just be five minutes in the morning. It has to be something that affects everything we do, and this commitment is what will unite our prayer with our life. So our prayer really extends throughout the day and into the next.

Where can I read more about this?

Some great books:

Time for God by Jacques Philippe. This is my favorite.

Prayer for Beginners by Peter Kreeft.

Fire Within by Fr. Thomas Dubay, S.M.

Some great websites:

Daily readings to meditate on.

Meditations for every day.

Lots of great prayers.

I hope to update this with more books and site. Please comment to this post with your favorites, suggestions, and experience.

Copyright 2012 Br. Mark Thelen, L.C.

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