“The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer, and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.”
Brother Lawrence, 17th Century.
“And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.” Jesus, Luke 11:46
I have asked it many times, you may have answered it, or even asked it yourself; “How’s your prayer life?” The term ‘prayer life’ is well meaning and the question is well intentioned. We desire to be people that treat prayer as a conviction of our faith. To have a good ‘prayer life’ suggests that we are doing what we believe we are required to do, we are ticking the spiritual boxes. This might be good for our ego, but it isn’t necessarily a healthy aspect for a life of faith or even one that imitates God’s divine image in the world.
Interestingly, if you were to ask Jesus how his ‘Prayer Life’ was, you might be met with a blank stare. Not because he didn’t take part in prayer, but because the term would be a completely foreign concept to him. For Jesus (and the Jewish people) there was/is no distinction between our spiritual actions and our day-to-day activities. Even the term ‘Spiritual Life’ would have been laughable to Jesus, as it suggests that our life is segmented into spiritual and secular parts.
Jesus and the writers of scripture seem to suggest that our whole life should be a life of Prayer, rather than segment our practises into a certain time, space or technique that we would refer to as our ‘prayer life’. Praying unceasingly (1 Thess 5:17) can seem like a huge challenge if we are used to maintaining a ‘prayer life’, but if we live a life of prayer, then it simply becomes “interacting with God about what we are thinking and doing together in the world”, as Dallas Willard puts it. This removes the religious obligation and replaces it with a genuine relationship.
This isn’t to say that we do away with our spiritual practices. Rather we use them as a launching block from which we begin to live a life that truly reflects the divine image of God in our world.
We have been saying, these are ‘Tools not Rules’, that help us to Reshape, Restore and Refocus. So, the following are a few techniques that I have personally found helpful to do all three of those things. Specifically, they are Prayer practices that are encouraging me to live a life of prayer. They may be specific for a time and place, but I find that when I genuinely take part in them, they flow on throughout my life and I begin to see ways in which I can reflect the divine image in the world.
Yes, it seems to go against the relational over religious concept, but if you are anything like me, just praying without focus can mean that I also pray without purpose. If I read (and affirm) liturgical prayer, I find that my mind is focused and purposely seeking God’s presence through the words. You could say that it brings me (or sometimes drags me) into God’s presence.
The ‘Common Prayer’ phone app has allowed me to access some beautiful prayers that have enriched my prayer life greatly. I have found that the Prayer of Saint Francis has become a daily prayer and really a desire of my heart, as it perfectly summarises what it looks like to reflect God’s image in the world. Some of the prayer is as follows:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
Contemplative Prayer (Sitting with Jesus):
This one requires some practice, because of our busy lives and busy minds, but it is also the most simplistic. It only requires a quiet space and an acknowledgement that God is as close as your next breath.
In this time of ‘contemplation’ or ‘centering’ we are attempting to clear our minds of all the busyness and listen for that “gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:12). It may help to center our thoughts around a single word so that when our minds start drifting to the noise out on the street, or the bill that has to be paid, we can simply bring our thought back to that word. Some that help might be ‘Grace’, ‘Peace’, ‘Forgiveness’ or ‘Hope’. We are not praying for these words as much as we are resting on them.
“[W]e are none of us very good at silence. It says too much.”
Another option during contemplation may be to recite Psalm 46:10 by reducing a few words each time. An example by Father Richard Rohr can be found here:
Prayers of Affirmation (‘Selah’ Prayers):
Recently I have found myself dissecting each portion of the Lord’s Prayer. Why? Well, Jesus instructs his disciples to Pray like it, so it must be important. But I also realized that I could recite the Lord’s Prayer (then pat myself on the back) and not even stop to consider the weight of Jesus’ words.
The Psalms are poetics prayers from the heart, often sung as hymns in their original context. Throughout the Psalms, we notice the Ancient Hebrew word ‘Selah’, in between many of the verses. The direct translation of this word is not exactly known but scholars have narrowed it down to a few options. It could mean ‘Pause and reflect’, ‘Stop and give thanks’ or ‘Stop and consider the weight’. The Psalmist wants these prayers to not simply be sung, but for people to consider the significance of what is being uttered.
We often don’t do this as we skim over scripture or race through our prayers to make sure we cover each prayer point. But there is so much value in simply stopping during these moments and considering the weight of what’s being said. Doing this through each verse of the Lord’s Prayer has been enlightening and very challenging for me. Each statement now carries far more weight than it did when I simply glossed over it. It is now my prayer that I would absorb each verse so that I would live each verse out in my life and begin to reflect the image of my Rabbi Jesus.
I hope this helps in opening up some new prayer avenues for you. But remember, if it ever becomes religious or feels laboring, move on and try something else. Prayer after all is about relationship, not religion.
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.” Jesus, Matthew 6:28-30.
Grace and Peace,