It is one thing to read or “say” a prayer. It is another to pray. What is prayer? How do we pray?
Most simply, prayer is a conversation with God. But we don’t strike up a conversation with someone unless we have a reason. First, there must be the desire for a friendship, or at least a reason. Then there must be time given to growing that friendship. And at least, at first, that time is usually filled with conversation.
Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits and a mystic of God, came to know that what he was to do in life was a matter of dialogue with God. This dialogue was formed, was found in prayer.
Conversation is central to all relationships. And conversation takes time. It takes time to tell a story, to share your feelings, to ask for forgiveness or to ask a favor, to thank someone for a favor done, to tell someone how good they are and how much they mean to you. In the telling and sharing and asking and thanking, friendships – relationships – grow.
So, if you want a friendship with God – for whatever reason – make time. Take time to make it happen.
Find a comfortable place to meet. Find a comfortable chair to sit in. Seat yourself in front of a scenic view or at least a neutral space where you won’t be distracted or disturbed. Go there alone, so you can stay focused on the one you have gone to meet.
Say hello. Acknowledge the one you’re with. Focus on the one who has chosen to be with you. Often, closing your eyes helps. Sometimes it helps to be attentive to your breathing. Sometimes just saying the name of the person you are with calms and settles you. Say hello.
Thank God for coming, for having this time to share. Then start with a subject you know something about: YOU. Tell God a little bit about your day, its successes and disappointments, about how you’re feeling, about what you’re hoping for. Sure, God knows all about you already. But sometimes saying it to another helps you to claim it as your own.
Share what comes to mind or what is on your heart. What’s been the best part of your day so far. What’s really good in your life right now. Who, what is giving you the most grief – or the most joy. Talk about it.
Look for indications that God is listening. Listen to what God might be saying.
Pay attention to your feelings. God speaks to us most directly through them. Turn to scripture or to a prayer – words that someone else has been inspired to write or has found inspiring.
Scripture is full of the “universal” and “essentials” of life. See how God has spoken through the ages and speaks to you now. Everything in scripture has something to say, if you are in a good space to hear it. The Psalms are the prayer book of the People of God, chock full of emotions and petitions, forgiveness, thanksgiving, praise. The Gospels are packed with stories of Jesus, the God-man. Listen to his teachings. See how he deals with other people – friends and foes. Notice how he faces difficult circumstances like sickness and deaths, and times of celebration, like weddings and banquets.
Enter into a scene of scripture. Read a story and imagine yourself there. Use your senses to help you “be there.” If you are by the Sea of Galilee, imagine breeze that comes off the body of water, its dampness, its coolness. Smell the sea breeze, and the fish caught nearby. See the people around you, how they strain to see the man, Jesus, and press near him, pressing on you and each other to get there. See the man, Jesus, the calmness of his manner, his relaxed face, the way he touches those who touch him. Does he touch you? Listen to him speak from above the ruckus of the crowd. How do his words touch you? Enter into the scene and note how you feel. Are you changed? What is stirred inside of you? This form of prayer, in which you use your imagination and all of your senses, is called Ignatian Contemplation. God IS real.
Or read slowly a passage from scripture or a prayer. The words of the Prophets and the Epistles are wells of teaching and insight. Read a passage aloud, if you like. Pause and let it sink in. Read it again. See if a single word, a phrase, an image, an entire sentence captures your attention, touches your heart. In silence, in stillness, absorb it. Let it absorb you. Talk to God about it. Ask questions. Give thanks for the insights you gain. Carry the word or the image that has spoken to you with you. This form of prayer is called Meditation. God speaks to us in many ways, both in word and in silence.
Remember who you are with. God is with you. Inviting, inspiring, remembering with you. Yes, be mindful that you are not alone.
When it’s time to go… thank God for the time you’ve had. Promise to get together again. Ask God for help with whatever you have to deal with, whatever awaits you as you leave. Tell God how great God is, how good it is to spend some time with someone you have heard so much about.
Journal. Let yourself take note of anything that comes to you during prayer, or after prayer. Journal while you pray, if it helps move you into deeper concentration, into focus, into concrete dialogue with God. Journal as you leave prayer, so that you can remember what has happened, what’s been said, what you might want to come back to next time.
Prayer is conversation. All that is required is the desire to be with the One who desires to be with you, and to be open to wherever the time and conversation may take you.
– Mary Flick