I’m participating in the Catholic Women Bloggers Network blog hop on Favorite Prayers and Devotions. I couldn’t pick just one!
This fall, my Bible study was taking suggestions as to what we should tackle next. Should be study one specific book of the Bible? A theme? If so, what theme?
I suggested prayer, because it’s a subject I struggle with. Not that prayer is necessarily difficult–it’s just rather elusive. After all, does prayer really work?
- What does it mean for prayer to “work” anyway?
- Is there a best way to pray? Because shoot–I sure don’t want to waste my time praying mediocre prayers! (Please hear the snark in my voice there!)
- Is there a right way to pray?
- Wrong way to pray?
Because we’re so conditioned to see things in black and white, or to see things as a race, with an end in sight, prayer is the elusive entity that it is. No matter how much we do it, no matter how much we study it, we’ll never really understand it.
And, to be honest, prayer seems like a last ditch effort. “Hmmm . . . well, I can’t fix this. So I guess I’ll see what God can do with it.” Or, as two of LM Mongomery’s characters said when gossiping about another character who was sick, “‘We’ll have to leave it to prayer.’ ‘Oh–is it as bad as that?'”
Then again, if we pray more regularly, we certainly will understand it better.
I’ve found it helpful to pray in different ways. I’m sure God hears us no matter how we pray, so I’m not saying that any of these types is more effective than another.
The Lord’s Prayer (Our Father)
“Lord–teach us how to pray.” (cite)
“Our Father, who are in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,
On Earth as in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Lead us not into temptation,
And deliver us from evil.
If there is a right/wrong way to pray, this one is clearly the gold standard on the right way.
Is it OK to repeat Jesus’s words verbatim? Of course.
Is it OK to change up Jesus’s words, so we also thank God for who he is, remind ourselves to do God’s will (and therefore, seek guidance as to what God’s will is), ask that he meets our needs, ask that he forgives us and keeps us from harm? Absolutely.
Some people and traditions frown on memorized prayers. I think they serve a purpose.
- They’re very handy when praying together with a lot of people.
- When we know we want to pray, but don’t have any words, memorized prayers come in handy in a pinch. Sure, “the Spirit will intercede for us with wordless groans [when we do not know what to pray for]” (Rom 8:26), but sometimes it’s nice to have real words.
- When we focus on the words of a memorized prayer, they usually take us from whatever situation we’re fixated with at any given moment, allowing us to redirect our thoughts and worries, so we can see the bigger picture, or get a better idea of God’s perspective and will.
Scripture reference for the benefits of memorizing prayers:
“This command which I am giving you today is not too wondrous or remote for you . . . it is something very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to do it.”
-Deuteronomy 30;11, 14
The footnote I have for “in your mouth” claims that this refers to something memorized or recited, and “in your heart” refers to something internalized and appropriated.
So, for those who frown on memorized prayers, frown all you want, but it’s Biblical!
This is the form of prayer I most often find myself falling into. In a nutshell, intercessory prayer is asking for prayers for others (or myself).
Some claim that Matthew 6:7, where Jesus says “In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think they will be heard because of their many words.” means that we should not repeat ourselves. (This is typically cited as one objection to the rosary.) However, isn’t it true that when we find out that someone is gravely ill, all we can think to pray is, “Dear God, please heal Nancy. Dear God, please heal Nancy. Please heal Nancy. Heal Nancy, heal Nancy, heal Nancy.”
Haven’t we all done this? Of course.
Is it “wrong”? Of course not!
I have a recent example of a similar prayer, with astounding results.
A few weeks ago, my choir was invited to sing the national anthem at the baseball stadium for the Sarapero’s season opener. My parents were visiting, and it was Spring Break, so I had plans to go to a baseball game anyway. This seemed like the perfect time, as my parents had been able to hear me sing with the choir and orchestra yet.
I got them tickets in the general section, because the crowd is way more fun in the general section. (Trust me, half the fun of a Saraperos game is enjoying everyone else in the stands.) However, general section tickets don’t have assigned seats. When we got the stadium, it was clear that the game was sold out.
But since I had to go sing with the choir, I left them in the entrance line, recommending that they sit along the third base line, and promising to find them once I was free.
However, once we were singing, it was clear that finding my family was going to be next to impossible. There were so many people there that hundreds were standing up in the aisles. We got there on the later end, so it was completely possible that my family hadn’t even found seats. (And keep in mind, my parents and kids aren’t big fans of crowds AND my parents don’t speak Spanish . . . and my kids aren’t very helpful yet at being translators. And they didn’t have a phone on them to call me to tell me where they found seats.)
As I was walking through the stands, among the thousands and thousands of people there. I was sure they were just about furious at me. I kept praying, “Please God, help me find my family. Help me find my family. May they have found seats.” Over and over.
After scouring the overflow sections (which seemed most likely), I took a chance and walked through the main section, which I was sure had been filled before we arrived. But it was worth a chance.
Lo and behold, while walking behind home plate, I found my family waving to me, near the top of the stands. Somehow–I’m now convinced this was divine intervention–they had scored some of the best seats in the stands. Right behind home plate, on the third base line, as I had recommended. When I was singing the national anthem, they were right in front of me (just very far away). And they were even able to save me one! Far from being furious about being squished in a noisy, obnoxious crowd, they were having a great time. And once I found them, I did, too!
Prayers don’t need to be long and fancy. God can take our little bit of faith, and make something amazing out of it.
At the same time, God isn’t a wish-granting genie. These next two ways to pray are helpful to deepen and further one’s understanding of God.
Sometimes it’s good to step back, and let God talk to us.
There’s a part of our brain that always wants to keep talking. Or, try as we might, that part of our brain just doesn’t want to shut up. Meditation gives the chatty side of our brain something to do while we try to find deeper meaning in whatever we’re meditating on.
The rosary is a great example of meditation. I explained my journey of getting comfortable with the rosary here.
More along the lines of meditation, I think one of the draws of modern worship music is its meditative quality. To be honest, I’m not a big fan of “worship music” because of its mind-numbing repetition. But that may be exactly the draw. If that music facilitates meditation on who God is, I can see why modern Christian culture is so drawn to it.
And that’s great.
But sometimes we’d rather meditate on Scripture. Kate at Daily Graces has a great guide to Lectio Divina here. Lectio Divina is an ancient practice encourages people to pray over Scripture, by reading it, meditating on it, and contemplating it. Even though Kate’s guide is specifically for Lent (and we just finished up that season), the verses are always pertinent. Or, in one of the first pages of her guide, she provides a blank page, to be printed off as often as necessary, so if you want to meditate on a verse she doesn’t use, go ahead and use whatever verse you’d like!
As a side note: most of us are pretty good at meditation already. Whenever we find ourselves fixated on a worry, we’re meditating on that worry. The trick is to turn it around, stop worrying about the situation and pray about it instead!
In our society, we tend to be afraid of silence. If we’re constantly talking, listening to music or background noise, where do we have any space to hear God?
Again, Lectio Divina gave me a very basic introduction to contemplation. I’ve also been gleaning the Center for Action and Contemplation’s website and The World Community for Christian Meditation for more insights on how to cultivate contemplation in my life.
But, really, the best idea is to be still and listen.
Some Catholics do set some time aside and contemplate while at Adoration. We can also sit and contemplate at home, or on a walk. This is an area I don’t have a ton of experience in, but I do want to grow!
So, if anyone’s got any helpful hints to throw my way–go ahead and comment!
Or, are there any other ways to pray that you’ve found helpful that I haven’t mentioned? I’d also love to hear about them!
This is one of those subjects we could study our whole lives and never really feel that we completely understand it.
This reminds me that I was asked for my favorite prayer for the Catholic Women Blogger Network. I pray this in Spanish (in groups), but translated for those who’d prefer it in English. Try as I might, I just couldn’t find the “official” translation. So if my translation is a bit wonky, feel free to link me to the “official” translation in the comment section.
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