Beginning to Pray
In the midst of an interesting post by Father Steven on prayer is this fascinating little snippet that is worth pondering.
A second simple act is of equal importance: meaning what you say. There is no necessary superiority to praying with oneâ€™s own spontaneous words rather than praying prayers that are written for you. It is possible to practice either form while giving no attention to what you are saying. I have heard â€œspontaneousâ€ prayers that were as â€œroteâ€ as the worst misuse of written prayers. In either case â€“ whether prayers are read or â€œspontaneouslyâ€ uttered â€“ it is essential to mean what we say. Reading things (or saying things) that have no connection to our heart is a guaranteed way to force your mind to wander. How can you be present with words you do not mean?
Mean what you say, and whatever form your prayer is, mean what you pray.
Jesus Christ, son of God, told us so many beautiful and sensible things about prayer. Don’t babble on, for God already knows what we need (note: not want), to have fortitude in our prayers, and of course, when we lack for knowing how to pray or what to say, to use the Lord’s Prayer – which encapsulates so many (if not all of) the important things of God in a remarkably few perfect words.
Truly God provides for everything we need to know. How blessed are we.
This is, of course, exactly the opposite of all the orthodox teaching about prayer throughout the ages. The important thing is to pray, not to mean what you pray. When you don’t believe in God, pray. When you don’t trust God, pray. When your heart and soul are dry, pray. When you feel like killing yourself because nothing has meaning, nothing has value, pray. When you dislike God and would like to spit at God, pray. When the words are empty and meaningless, pray. That’s what the church has always taught, and what you say here is damaging, immature rubbish.
I’m not sure the two are as direct opposites as you suggest. You are describing an entirely seperate experience, that of the absence of the presence of God in one’s prayer and spiritual life, but then even in those circumstances, to pray is to choose to believe that there is a God who is listening and will engage.
Whether you’re sure or not is beside the point. I am not describing a entirely separate experience (and I know how to spell separate), I am talking about the understanding of prayer that the Church has had for centuries. Go away, read some of the spiritual writers. Then, live the Christian life for a few more decades. Although I have to add that I have known people as young and inexperienced as you who nevertheless know about prayer and spirituality, so it can’t be just that that’s your shortcoming. And, I don’t know on what authority you profess to teach the rest of us about prayer, when you clearly know so little about it.
Thank you for your graceful response Harry.
Can I suggest that if you want to continue to comment here, you could reflect on your manner of engagement with folks who want to discuss the subjects we touch on.
I think that reading written prayers from a liturgy can be helpful in articulating obedience to God even when we don’t feel like it.
Sometimes I find it impossible to put in to words what I want to express from my spirit and just sit and be quiet trusting that God knows what I am trying to articulate. Not sure if this would be classed as ‘prayers’ though.
I think you’re right on both counts. What Stephen+ is saying is that to use a written prayer one must pray it with conviction. In this sense then prayer becomes a choice to engage with God, even when other aspects of our life seek to flee him.
And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with simply sitting and letting be. “Spirit groans” as Romans calls them are prayer indeed. Other times we might just want to rest in his presence and let him speak.
The longer I continue as a Christian, the more I realise that we cannot exhaust the depths of prayer. I am always fascinated by the many ways that we pray and excited by the many different ways that God responds to our prayers. Truely we all have much to learn! As a charismatic Christian I often pray in the Spirit and find the use of tongues a great blessing. I often find that, rather than understanding what I pray, the use of tongues serves to place me in a more ‘spiritually receptive’ place where I can more easily receive what God has to give to me, or hear what he has to say to me.