Jesus begins his teaching on prayer by stating that prayer is not babbling. When we pray we are to resist just saying empty words that have no meaning, or just praying in words that we think God wants us to hear.
Prayer, first and foremost, is a response to the Holy Spirit moving within us, urging us to pray, “for we do not know how to pray as we ought” (cf. Romans 8:26). We are to speak honestly to God in our prayer. One of the most honest prayers I prayed was when I was around eight years old and overheard my parents discussing the idea of getting a divorce. I said to God that if I woke up in the morning and he allowed this to happen we were through. When we pray we bring our struggles and petitions, as well as our joys and prayers of Thanksgiving, and let us not forget, we are to be still and silent as well to listen for his word or his silence.
Reading the psalms are also a great way to pray because they cover the full range of our human emotions; prayers of blessing, petition, intercession, thanksgiving, and praise. We will even come across a reading like Psalm 88, which we feel does not appeal to us at the moment, as it is such a psalm of despair, yet someone is feeling that prayer and we can read and pray it for others if we are not feeling the same way.
In our Gospel today, we read Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer or the Our Father. It presents two ways to pray, first it is a rote prayer that we memorize word for word. The blessing of a rote prayer is we can pray it in communion with others, as we all know the same words. Another important gift of rote prayers is that we can pray them when we are physically in pain or emotionally distraught when we feel we can’t pray. Having prayed the Our Father daily, it is a prayer we can lean on to give us strength through the storms of our life. Praying the Our Father gives us the words to speak when we have none, and by loosening our tongues, we can come to a place where we can speak more freely with God.
The Lord’s Prayer is also a model of prayer such that each word or phrase can be a starting point to enter into a deeper and loving dialogue. As an example, we begin with the words, “Our Father.” This is a reminder that God is the Father of us all and the beginning of all prayer. His sun shines on the good and the bad alike. Our prayer begins by putting our self in his presence.
God our Father is with us even when we experience fear, feel forgotten, misunderstood, or alone. Our Father loves us more than we can ever imagine, and our very desire to pray is already a prayer, because we are responding to his invitation to spend time with him. Calling on his name is a reminder that he is always present and he hasn’t forsaken us. He provides our daily bread and forgives us as we forgive others.
As we make some time today to pray the Our Father slowly, we can allow whatever is going on in our life to enter into the recitation and remember that the best dialogue allows each party involved to spend some time listening to the other. As St Mother Teresa taught, “God speaks in the silence of our hearts.” By making some time to pause, to be still, and not rush through the prayer, maybe we can grow in our ability to listen to each other better as well.
Photo: Painting of Jesus that my maternal grandparents had in their bedroom that was passed on to us and is now in our bedroom.