Wednesday, September 23, 2009

On Christian Prayer

Alexander and I are studying a unit towards certificates in religious education/adult formation leadership/youth ministry. (Check the apropriate box. )

Our first unit is on Christian prayer.

As I mentally argue my way through the required readings, playing Devil's Advocate as I tend to do when studying..a habit learned long ago, at a girls' secondary school and then at I argue intellectually, I also discuss ideas..with Alexander and any of the other kids who happen to be around. And I pray. More.

Pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17).

St Paul tells us to pray without ceasing, to make our lives a prayer, to practice the awareness of the presence of God in our moments of life.

It is possible to offer fervent prayer even while walking in public or strolling alone, or seated in your shop, . . . while buying or selling, . . . or even while cooking. St. John Chrysostom

One way to do this is through set prayers, at set times of the day.

Set prayers? Formal prayers, prayers that take us out of our ego centric, self centredness. That remove us from the circumstances in which we find ourseves and force us to think of God, of others, of whole realms of prayer, of types of prayer, of different people and areas that need prayer, of sins of omission.

Formal prayers that join us to other Christians, praying these prayers; to Christians in the past; the communion of saints, the community of the church.

Formal prayers that help us avoid shallowness but that act as a form of spiritual we are not stuck in our ruts and comfort zones of prayer but are forced, if you like, as a physical trainer forces and challenges one to try new workouts, forced to pray, to think differently, to try new spiritual exercises that may be challenging or least at first.

And it helps to think of pegs in our day. Activities to which we can peg prayer, as a habit. Items or objects to which we can peg prayer.

Like praying the Angelus at lunch time. Or having a small object, a cross or rosary beads perhaps, or a holy card , or an open Bible or prayer book, on the counter or on the desk or on the table, or a religious icon as a computer background, so each time we glance at it, we remember to pray. To think of God. To pray without ceasing. To develop an awareness of the presence of God.

Years ago, two friends and I agreed to peg, well, um, Kegel exercises to our praying of the Rosary. ( Gosh, the things I mention on this blog!).

We can turn this around and peg prayers, short prayer aspirations or ejaculations, like Lord, you know that I love you ( John 21:15) or Thy will be done! (Fiat voluntas tua!) or Domine Iesu Christe, Filius Dei, miserere me peccatorem! (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!) Luke 18:13..we can peg these prayers to activities like answering the phone, turning on the computer, checking text messages, hanging out laundry...or to a workout, like praying during my jog this morning.

Prayer is the action of God and of man, springing forth from both the Holy Spirit and ourselves, wholly directed to the Father, in union with the human will of the Son of God made man.(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2564)

Prayer like this unifies or integrates our faith and our life.

They are one and the same, aren't they?
Even when I play Devil's Advocate.

The point of using these prayers -- and other long, complex, and formal prayers -- is, first of all, to take advantage of "best practices". They are magnificent, beautiful, and compelling, and obviously they worked (i.e., God took notice of them), or nobody would have bothered writing them down for posterity! We use these prayers for the same reason that we read classic literature: there is a timeless beauty and value to them such that they survived the Darwinian process of history -- survival of the fittest. blogoslovi


Hopewell said...

"Formal prayers that help us avoid shallowness" I had never looked at it like this, but think back to all the nights on the prayer team [back in Indianapolis] in which cliche after cliche was strung together in prayer. Our Lord taught us to pray "Our Father...." yet sometimes we swerve so far away from it that our prayers become a grown up "Dear Santa" letter with the list of things we want. Great post!

Leonie said...

I like your analogy of the Dear Santa letter..very good!