07 January 2010

Thoughts on Prayer

OK, here is a subject-area where Angels fear to tread and I'm offering a few preliminary thoughts here on prayer for discussion. By no means do I think that I am an "expert" on prayer or that I have "right answers" about prayer.

My three thoughts for this morning are:

1) Pray as you can, not as you can't
2) Prayer, just do it
3) Prayer is not a vending machine, it's an exercise

Pray as you can, not as you can't.
Anyone who has attended Guy Chester Centre in the past will recognize this saying as taught by the beloved Sister Anne Marie Farrell. In fact, it's a saying that many regular practitioners of traditional Christian prayer disciplines will tell you.

Prayer is not an easy thing and there is no point in making it harder by getting a whole load of "shoulds" into your head about how prayer "should" be done. Some people are familiar with more contemplative prayer and they think that this sort of prayer just doesn't work for them because they hate silence and can't sit still for ten minutes. Others are more familiar with spoken verbal prayer and may think "Well, Fred the Local Preacher in my congregation is fantastic at praying out loud, but I get my tongue all tied up; I can't pray and won't ever be able to."

Each individual is going to have approaches to prayer that at different from others. There are a number of good books which give suggestions on various ways to pray to help you try out a few of them. Richard Foster's book called Prayer; Finding the Heart's True Home stands out as one of these. Some people find it easier to pray while walking, some find it easier with music, some with silence. Some pray out loud in their own room, some pray out loud with others, some pray silently with others.

There is no "Right Way" to pray and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. I also find I pray differently in different situations. Sometimes I want to pray silently on my own. Sometimes I want to pray out loud with others. Neither way is better than the other.

2) Prayer, just do it
This is kind of a "bridge" point between points one and three.

Don't worry about your prayer technique. Just pray and try to pray regularly. Try various ways of praying until you begin to understand which ways work for you and which way you pray in different circumstances. For example, if I'm really in a crisis situation, I ideally want to be praying with others. That's not always possible, but I now know that this is my preferred way of praying in such a circumstance.

Also, like exercise, praying regularly is helpful but every little bit helps. Personally, I have found saying the Daily Office (there are many versions of this in books as well as on line) to be incredibly helpful in "just doing it". The Daily Office is especially helpful when you are distracted, sad or depressed. Rote prayer, in my view, is far from the vain praying that many more passionate Protestants claim it is. It's a way of showing up to be with God even if you don't feel like it.

Regular prayer, like regular exercise, is helpful and it all "accumulates". Which brings me to my third point:

3) Prayer is not a vending machine, it's an exercise
A lot of people have a lot of things to say about whether or not prayer "works". It seems to me that no matter what side of this argument you take, both sides seem to think of prayer as a vending machine. To be a bit absurd for the sake of making a point: "My friend's heart is failing and a transplant can't be found, so we're praying for a miracle cure for her heart and when it doesn't come we decide that our prayers to God have failed or not been heard."

Now, don't get me wrong, I do believe in miracles. I have personally seen someone delivered from an illness that was diagnosed as fatal; this middle-age person's cure/healing was incomprehensible to doctors, was apparently complete and came a few days before the person was supposed to die. However, I'm not actually expecting to see another miracle like that in my lifetime.

What I do think is that prayer can help us see the everyday miracles more clearly. Prayer helps us see key-hole appendectomies as miracles, new cancer treatments as miracles. But probably more importantly, prayer helps us recognize that the fact that we got up this morning is a miracle. That the fact I have a warm house and a roof over my head is a miracle. Prayer helps us see that the good Samaritan who just happened to have a can of petrol on that isolated road is a miracle and not a coincidence. And I don't think I'm down-playing the word "miracle" here.

Just like exercise helps make our physical muscles stronger, so too does prayer help make our spiritual muscles stronger.

What do you think?

1 comment:

Micky said...

Thanks for this Pam. We often treat prayer as a commodity or a means to an end. It is, of course, an end in itself - to be consciously in the presence of God. This should be enough for us, speaking with and listening to God, or just being aware of God's presence within ourselves and the world. This will as you say help us to see the world with spiritual insight and open us up to the possibility of recognising God in all sorts of situations.