(Continue with PART THREE)
THE MANY WAYS AND STYLES TO PRAY
PRAYER – PART THREE
You are probably wondering, as I did, that prayer comes in many styles and seems more complicated than what it should be. Actually, as I mentioned in Part Two, prayer can come from either the HEAD or the HEART, and both Liturgy or Public Prayer and Private or Personal Prayer can have both elements.
Is there a way to pray with both? Yes, there is, and one way is through music! For example, in the title of a popular hymn, “Holy God we Praise Your Name,” the last verse is very theological on the topic of the Trinity: “Holy Father, Holy Son, Holy Spirit, Three we name thee; While in essence only One, Undivided God we acclaim thee.” Even though that is very heady, we pray it all the time when we sign ourselves with the Sign of the Cross. OK, maybe not adding the last part and using the four points of the cross. But notice, music draws in our hearts and therefore our emotions. So in essence, we are singing with our minds and with our hearts, “Holy God, We praise Your Name!”
It is good to learn to pray both ways, with the mind and with the heart, even though we will be more comfortable with one way more than the other, but there are plenty of books on prayer that will meet the needs and interests of everyone. It is important to know which kind satisfies us and to use that way, BUT, we also need to challenge ourselves by using a different way that we may not be necessarily comfortable with as a way to grow in all kinds of prayer.
MEDITATION – the Mind, AFFECTATION – the Heart, both lead to CONTEMPLATION. That means we should incorporate Contemplation into our prayer life whether we use Meditation or Affective Prayer. CONTEMPLATION would normally come after Meditation and Affectation.
CONTEMPLATION – Prayer of Quiet and/or Centering Prayer, St. Ignatius suggests breaking the ONE HOUR into three 20 minute periods throughout the day. I would suggest that you at least try for a 20 minute period once a day to end your formal private prayer times, but do try to extend yourself for the two or three periods more.
What are the FRUITS of Prayer, especially CONTEMPLATION?
A solid and regular prayer life will eventually lead to several noticeable effects. One effect is that it helps us to get in touch with this Deep and Abiding Peace that the world cannot give! That is why, in the Eucharist, we have a formal Kiss of Peace, a peace that the world cannot give. When we come out of our Quiet time of Contemplation, we notice that we are coming out of a Deep Peace within growing more and more noticeable over time! This peace is always there, it is just that we are now becoming aware of it AND tapping into it through the regular practice of prayer in our daily life. It is also this deep peace that keeps us coming back to this prayer, even though beginning this prayer may be difficult at times.
I remember that after a few years of practicing this prayer on my own, I was in touch with this peace and even looked forward to this time of prayer. When my aunt died, my mother’s sister, I was devastated, since she was the love and support of my life, a woman so filled with life and joy that she literally danced around the kitchen, even though she was over 250 pounds. At her funeral I wept uncontrollably, BUT, interestingly, I still noticed this feeling of peace deep within my deep sorrow, a peace that a door was opened to see and experience this presence. I slowly felt that peace come over me knowing that she was with God.
This practice of prayer will also change our perspective on life. As we grow and mature, we still tend to look at our lives ‘From the Outside In!” Once we decide to commit our life to God through a life of regular daily prayer, our perspective on life changes. As we mature spiritually we begin to start looking at our lives ‘From the Inside Out!” BEFORE, we measured ourselves against others, how we dressed, our success or not, whether others loved us or not, etc. AFTER, we start to measure how we have lived our lives for the Lord, loving others, and giving of ourselves for others. Sometimes it takes a disaster for people to act. But what happens when the disaster is over? Do we change for the better? In times of crisis we are presented with the opportunity. The Chinese Symbol for CRISIS is depicted by two signs; DANGER and OPPORTUNITY!
Another more measurable way is that we are more sensitive to, as St. Ignatius writes, “the good and the bad spirits affecting our lives.” When we listen to and move with the Good Spirits through our life in Christ, the decisions that we make and the actions that we take leave us with a sense of PEACE. There is that feeling of peace again, ‘as the world cannot give’. When we do the opposite and move with the Bad Spirits we are left with feelings of anxiety and depression. Saint Ignatius mentions that we may not know which is good or bad, but only by the effects. That is why he says not to make any move after deciding on important decisions; the greater the decision, the longer the wait should be before we act. These decisions may be as simple as prayer styles or as important as a change of job or lifestyle!
Another phenomena that begins to present itself as we persevere in prayer over the years, is that prayer itself does strange things to us. Don’t worry, let me explain, and why. In Contemplation, when prayer ends and our timer goes off, or however you keep time, it seems that an hour or more has passed by. Yet, our timer says only 20 minutes. Or the opposite is true, when it seems like we just sat down to prayer and the timer goes off! St. Teresa of Avila explains it this way. At one point God takes over our prayer, especially in our quiet or centering prayers of contemplation. When God takes over, God takes us to places that we are not allowed to know or recall, and since God has no sense of time, we enter into a state of ‘No Time.” I am only mentioning this so that when it happens, you won’t worry about it. Let it go and Let God continue the work in us.
In Prayer: PART FOUR, now that we are all on the same page, I want to talk about praying and being with God OUTSIDE of Prayer! You will find this interesting.
PRAYER – PART TWO
As I looked over Part One of Prayer, you are probably wondering where I am going with this. I do have a goal in mind. The first goal is get us all on the same page. So if this isn’t new to you, good, then it will be a review. If it is, please let me know if I am going too fast or too deep. This is the talk that I gave to our new men in Africa who want to join the Marianists.
Just to highlight, Prayer is either public or private. We need and hopefully do both. Unfortunately, we as even Christians tend to do only Public Prayer most of the time, that is, we tend to go to Mass on Sunday and that’s it, we did our duty. OK, maybe prayers before meals. For me, it is like saying, I ate my meal on Sunday and that’s enough. We know that it will not sustain us physically and it will not sustain us spiritually simply because prayer is entering into a relationship with God. In spiritual reality, prayer should be like breathing. Any relationship with another PERSON will not last if communication is few and far between!
I also mentioned that Public Prayer is Liturgy (Greek for: the work of the people), what we as Christian do when we gather usually on Sundays. In the early church it would be unthinkable to miss the Sunday Liturgy, and many bishops threatened excommunication for missing too many masses in a row. The reasoning is that the person has cut themselves off from the community by missing the most important public Faith Community event.
Through our Baptism we are given the right to pray for ourselves and for others. Without Baptism, who are we to think we can pray for ourselves and others? Public Prayer is a public witness to others of our faith community’s commitment to God as a corporate witness, and it can be very powerful, especially if we are known as a community of prayer. Whether we realize it or not, others will notice and even be attracted to God because they knew of our public and personal witness.
Before I begin this section on PERSONAL PRAYER, let me add to the Jewish way of prayer in the time of Jesus. Their PUBLIC PRAYER was centered on sacrifice, usually an animal, but also of bread! Interestingly enough, their Passover meal was in the HOME! The MEN would go to the temple to pray, but women had to go to a separate section of the temple. Only men could be closer to the HOLY OF HOLIES, but that is another talk. With Christ, all are welcome.
Generally, PERSONAL or PRIVATE PRAYER falls into three general categories: Meditation, Affectation, and Contemplation.
(Continue with Part Three)
MEDITATION is the type of prayer that is done in the HEAD. A person prepares themselves by reading Scripture first, or picking a faith belief, dogma, topic, and so forth, to reflect on. In the seminaries, the person was usually given a topic to reflect on or meditate on by the rector. In the monasteries, a type of prayer called: Lectio Divina, was the prayerful reading of Scripture. This type of prayer is done MENTALLY, but one notices any movement of the heart. St. Thomas Aquinas would be an example of promoting and using this type of prayer.
AFFECTATION is the type of prayer that is done using the HEART, usually with the emotions and being attentive to them. One can also use the Scriptures or dogmatic statements, etc., as above, but the person is more interested in the feelings that are generated. For example, reading the story of the disciples and Jesus in the boat. One is attentive to every detail of the story and feelings that are stirred up, especially when the storm hits them almost sinks their boat. One is attentive even to who he is in the scene: Jesus, a disciple, in the crowd, or just outside the scene. This type of prayer was used by St. Ignatius of Loyola, especially in his Thirty Day Retreat.
Under the heading of Affective Prayer would come the type of prayer that might be just a prayerful walk in the woods. St. Francis would be a good example of this type of prayer. One would be attentive to God’s creation all around them and how one would react in a prayerful way literally to a walk in nature.
CONTEMPLATION would include the Prayer of Quiet where the person would still themselves and allow GOD TO TALK to them! Even though this is probably the most simple it is also the hardest. The main reasons is that it seem we are wasting our time just sitting there, but that is the most important part because IN FAITH we believe that God is sitting there with us. The other reason, it is so difficult to quiet our active brain and we can get easily distracted. There is no way we can shut off our minds and emotions. That only comes at death. So part of the technique is to find a word or phrase that brings us back to our quiet. Sometimes this prayer is called Centering Prayer. This practice of bringing ourselves back to prayer, letting go of the thought, is the most powerful part of this prayer. Practiced over time we find ourselves letting go of many things and thoughts that lead us astray, even feelings. Eventually it brings peace. And for those who have practiced this prayer over the years, God eventually takes over and brings us to places we will never know but will have a residual intuition.
All Prayer will eventually lead us to this last part of Contemplation, in other words, Mental Prayer (or mediation), and Affective Prayer, will lead to this final part of Quiet. Even Good Liturgies will lead us there to that Quiet if properly observed in the service. Since Contemplation is the practice of letting go and letting God, this last part is when God takes over. And that will be the topic of our next talk. (To be continued in PART THREE.)