Jesus went up to the mountain to pray, and he spent the night in prayer to God (Lk 6:12).
Jesus spent the whole night in prayer to God. What is prayer? All of us as human beings seek meaning and to belong. We desire security and stability, as well as direction and adventure. We want to be accepted, to love and to be loved and to experience meaningful relationships. These primary yearnings are present within us. Often though we confuse what we truly desire for temptations that ultimately leave us unsatisfied and more important ignore what will truly fulfill us: developing a relationship with God through prayer.
If you want to pray, you have already begun. The desire in and of itself to pray is prayer. The danger of reading about prayer is that we think we are praying. In the turning of the page or completion of the chapter, we feel as if we are accomplishing something, but we are only imagining how prayer can be. Peter Kreeft wrote: “It is tempting to remain in the comfortable theater of the imagination instead of the real world, to fall in love with the idea of becoming a saint and loving God and neighbor instead of doing the actual work, because the idea makes no demands on you” (Prayer for Beginners, 12).
There is a myriad of ways to pray and each practice will match each of our unique personalities. The key to prayer is to make a commitment to a time and a place to pray each day. Start with a timeframe, such as five minutes that you know you can do. Depending on the discipline of prayer you practice, your family, school, work, and/or ministerial demands will be indicators as to how much you might be able to increase the time you pray once you have built a consistent practice.
The amount of time that we dedicate to prayer is not as important as the commitment to pray each day. For me, attending Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours has been a consistent anchor since studying for the diaconate. The daily Mass readings, writing a reflection each day on them, and then sharing both with JoAnn was a practice we shared together each evening. After JoAnn’s death, and beginning about two years ago, I started meditating in the morning and the evenings. Before bed, I end the day praying and meditating with the mysteries of the Rosary and recently started to pray the Jesus prayer with a prayer rope.
JoAnn was less contemplative and more active in her prayer. She would speak to God as if speaking to a friend, we attended Mass together, and she experienced God in her daily activities and encounters with people. I too have found that seeing Jesus in those we encounter is a sign of our maturation in prayer. For the person is no longer other or one to be kept at arm’s length but a human being with dignity created in the image and likeness of God. This becomes more apparent when we spend time with one another.
St Therese of Lisieux offers us a good approach to prayer: “For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy” (CCC, 2559). No matter how we pray, our goal is that we don’t seek to bend God’s will to our’s but to allow our lives to be conformed to Jesus, that we encounter and build a relationship with him and each other, such that our experience of prayer matches St Augustine’s: “True, whole prayer is nothing but love” (Foster, 1).
Photo: Taking a hike or walking with JoAnn was one of my favorite forms of prayer!
Foster, Richard J. Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home. NY: HarperCollins, 1992.
Kreeft, Peter. Prayer for Beginners. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000.