There are three traditional “pillars” of Lent: prayer, fasting, and the giving of alms. As we enter Lent, I thought I would share some thoughts (mostly borrowed) concerning prayer. There are wonderful books and treatises written on prayer in the Christian tradition, but perhaps there are at least five things that form a beginning place when considering the role and place of prayer in our spiritual life:
Prayer is a mystery. In the Christian tradition, “mystery” is not that which is unknowable, but something that comes through revelation. And the thing is, we have been the recipients of the greatest of Revelations – the person of Jesus Christ. “Undeniably great is the mystery of devotion, Who[Christ] was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed to the Gentiles, believed in throughout the world, taken up in glory.” (1 Timothy 3:16.) So, should we be surprised that even after a lifetime of prayer, no matter how much we pray, no matter our experience, what happens in and during and through prayer remains a mystery? A mystery to be approached with intellect, learning, faith, and reflection, to be sure, but just as much a mystery to be embraced through practice and experience. Even if…
None of us knows exactly how to pray. We may find something that works or is comfortable for us, but everyone in the conversation seemed aware that prayer is something we keep learning and that we learn best by doing. Even if we don’t know what we are doing. “The Spirit … comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because it intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will.” (Romans 8:26-27)
There is no one way to pray. In private, in community, in song, in Scripture, in tongues, in repetitive phrases, contemplatively, in meditation, and more. In the many ways and richness of our cultures, dispositions, and traditions, there is a multitude of different ways to pray that suit all persons and situations. Take a measure of freedom and try out different ways of praying.
Doing and being are all mixed up in prayer. Our usual distinction between being and doing, or between identity and activity, don’t apply to prayer. Prayer is doing something, certainly, but it is also a way of being, and as we enter into prayer with our whole being, we are changed and things happen.
Just pray. There is no wasted prayer. God is eager to hear and receive and respond to our prayers because there is, I believe, nothing more that God wants than to be in relationship with us –all of us – and for us to flourish in this life together and with each other. Just do it.