A Discussion of Prayer


Does anybody know of some good sites or books which talk about prayer? Like, on how to pray, how to get the most out of prayer, etc? Because it seems that prots and caths have different ways of prayer. A lot of Catholic prayer seems to be memorization while Protestant's do more actual talking. They may say something like...
Heavenly Father, we thank you for this wonderful day, the opportunity to gather together and study your Word. We thank you for shedding your blood so that we are cleansed and thus become your children. God, we could do nothing without your mercy. Lord, a lot of the times we make mistakes and then neglect to correct them. We ask your forgiveness. (etc...)

And so I have been wondering... Just what kind of prayer is the best? Memorization or talking? Is memorization good since we could just do it and easily forget to think about the meaning? But is talking necessary since God already knows what is on our mind? What about praise? Do we have to explain why we praise Him when we pray to Him? Would God want that? Should we often state our mistakes (or even assume certain mistakes have been committed) and then ask for forgiveness and then for strength? Do we need to mention that Christ paid the penalty for us everytime we pray?

James,
Your questions remind me of a chapter of a book I have by Kathleen Chesto. When her toddler daughter was getting ready to eat lunch one day, she put her little hands together, and the child began to pray "Mary had a little lamb.." Kathleen asked her what she was doing. "I'm saying the Mary prayer!" her daughter answered. From then on, Kathleen vowed that they would not be required to say rote or memorization prayers because she felt like they would not get anything out of it.

Flash forward many years. Her son, tnow he town newspaper journalist, had recently written a highly critical series on the police department. One day, as he slowed to take a corner, this young man, tender & compassionate by nature, was horrified when an elderly man, suffering from mild dementia, stepped off the curb & into the path of the car. The man was killed; her son was devastated. His agony was compounded when the local police thought they could get back at him for his reporting & charged him with vehicular homicide. What followed was a nightmare for the whole family. The young man became very depressed & unable to focus on anything that would help him through it. Kathleen eventually asked him to pray & he said "but Mom, you never told us how to do it." The remark cut her to the core, but determined, she talked to some friends of his, and they brought him to a church & payed the rosary with him, and did so daily afterward.

Though his troubles were not over, it allowed him to focus on God, and to leave his troubles to God. "There were times when I could not even talk to God. And during those times that I could not talk to God, I prayed to him instead."

I find it somewhat interesting that criticism aimed at the rosary and other "vain repetitions" do not take into account the vision of heavenly worship as presented in Revelation... "day & night" it is un-ending worship and praise ("Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord"..). Un-ending. Eternal. For all time. That's **alot** of repetition.

You seem to be assuming I was being charged for reciting prayers, Roni. Oh well, I don't blame you. Most of my questions result from charges. Nice story you provided anyways.

Sorry, I'm not done yet; I clicked on post too quickly; I was actually trying to check the "Check here if HTML tags are in the message" box. So...

What I was trying to ask was about the spiritual part of prayer. Just what kind of praying, or how should praying be done in order to get the best out of whatever it's suppose to do?

IMHO, the main difference between the "talking" prayer you describe & the "memorized" ones is a matter of the tradition in which you are immersed. If, for example, you are a Baptist, your prayer tends to be the outward expression of gratitude to the Lord for some of the things you mentioned, like blessings & salvation. It is more oriented to a "personal" relationship with the Lord that is shared in a projected fashion with the community.

Catholics and certain other denominations have a service that is **liturgy** based, ancient in form & practice which places a stronger emphasis on prayer as worship in the more strict definition of the word. It is more formalized, and coming from that experience, many Catholics find it difficult to pray "off the cuff". You may want to start a prayer journal, and use it as a springboard for "opening up" when you are in more informal setting such as a prayer group.

An excellent book you may want to read is entitled "Fire Within" by Fr. Thomas Dubay. It is a top-notch work on spirituality & advanced prayer, with a special focus on the writings of St. Teresa and St John.

It can be ordered from Ignatius Press 1(800)651-1531.

Hi,James! I find that my prayer includes both the traditional prayers as well as praying in my own words. I know the Lord knows what I want, but I find it helps me to put things together at times if I "verbalize" in my mind what I believe my needs to be. The Lord spoke to His Father during the agony in the garden in his own words, so why not follow suit? I do find comfort in saying the Rosary, and at times during my recent medical treatments I found it helpful to say the memorized prayers when my mind was too fuzzy to put my own words together in a way that made sense.

One thing I found interesting was that when I went through a period of being mute (after surgery) I became used to not talking (quite a fete for someone who yacks like I do!). I was at Eucharistic Adoration and I realized that I was praying without even verbalizing my thoughts. It was a wonderful, experience, like a heart-to-heart prayer. It's hard to describe but wonderful to experience. I hope this makes some sense!

One more thought to chew on... I, being a chatter like MM have always preferred the rambling oration prayers; my husband who is incredibly introverted prefers the rosary etc. For the sake of our "family" prayer time I asked him to join his thoughts in our bedtime prayers. In exchange he asked me to spend more time in silent and/or rote (sp?) prayer so that Jesus could get a word in edgewise. I think rote prayer being like meditation lends itself to two way communication; whereas when you are in rambling praise it is hard to "hear" any advice that may be forthcoming.

oops, I forgot I had a book too: Lord Jesus, Teach Me to Pray by Lucy Rooney, SND and Robert Faricy, SJ

NextI don't know if best is the word to use. Prayer is talking with God. When you say the "memorized" prayers you must think about what you are saying and not just ramble on. It would seem that the other way would be better because you wouldn't fall into that rambling so much but the again Jesus did give us the Our Father and Mary told us to pray "O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee. I don't see how we could find fault with those. I think whatever we pray, we should first pray that God gives us the focus to say them!

Ok, I am going to wade in on this one. My feelings have no thelogical basis, so take them with a grain of salt. I am just going to give you my personal feelings.

I use prayer for different things, and the need I have (which, I admit, may not always be the need God has placed on me, but I'm working on that) determines my prayer form.

Sometimes, I have a purpose in mind: a friend who needs strength, or a situaion that needs addressing. At times like these, I may pray the rosary, prefaced with a little "heart to heart" prayer, getting my intent clear (to myself, God of course understands what I mean.)
(Like, sliding down a snowy hill - boy does the Hail Mary get a workout then! Like "Lord! Protect us! Mary, pray for us! Hail Mary....")

At other times, I need some quiet time with God, some time to reflect on the majesty of His love and the graces I need. At times like this, the memorized prayers work best for me because I can focus on the meaning and not on what I need to say next. (Ever prayer the Our Father as a gift to God? Wow!)

Finally, there are times that I just need to "talk", to work things through and "bounce my thoughts off God" as it were. At these times, informal prayer works best for me.

As I said, I have no theological basis to any of this, this is just how my too-sparse prayer life has developed. I guess that what I am trying to say is: in trying to figure out *how* to pray, first figure out *why* you are praying. The answer may become self evident.

I've been working on the "why" of prayer lately, too. One thing that turned around my thinking on praying the Rosary was the Blue Army's "Rosary Crusade" (Not sure if that's the right name) where they ask us to pray Rosaries for the sole intention of reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. It struck me that it's kind of selfish to pray for things that I want. It is good to ask for things, but that should only be a small part of daily prayer. I used to have a whole string of intentions for each Rosary. Now I pray a Memorare for those intentions after offering the Rosary in reparation to the Immaculate Heart.

Thanks for the great insights, all of you! Something to consider.

By the way, what's IMHO

In My Humble Opinion
and thanks for starting a great thread. :-)

First, a book:
The Art of Praying: the principles & methods of Christian prayer by Romano Guardini (Sophia Institute Press, 1985)
check out Sophia Inst. at http://sophiainstitute.com (Note: many of their books are reprints of Catholic classics, and I have been impressed by the books they choose to publish, or carry in their catalog)

Second, a couple of thoughts:
I agree with [...] about both rote prayers & conversational prayers having a place. I have noticed in my own prayer life (such as it is) that strictly conversational prayer can get just as routine & repetitious as rote prayers -- when I run out of things to say or ways to say them (especially an issue with prayers of thanksgiving & praise). Sometimes God speaks through the words of memorized prayers as we say them. And through reading non-memorized prayers of others from various prayer books -- especially prayers of saints, and the Psalms.

Let me suggest a few: Opening to God, by Thomas Green, SJ, gives a great general introduction to what prayer is all about. Anthony Bloom's _Beginning to Pray_ is a bit headier, but also solid. One of my favorites is recently re-published by Eerdmans in the _Ressourcement_ series: Prayer, by Jean Danielou, SJ.

On an autobiographical note, I was raised praying the Our Father and the Hail Mary, etc, and for that I am grateful. HOwever, prayer first became deeply meaningful to me when I spent time with some evangelical friends and realized that for them, prayer was conversation more than incantation, which is what it had always seemed to me before. So I for a while was only comfortable praying in the 'conversation' style, feeling that the other was a bit stiff.

In the last ten years or so, however, I have been gaining a deeper and deeper appreciation for the broad spectrum of prayer styles (or whatever we want to call them). Centering Prayer is now a standard in Catholic circles (contemplation is a more traditional name for it). The classic book on that is Thomas Keating, "Open Mind, Open Heart." But my recent favorites have been the tried and true prayers of the tradition, like the 'long version' of St. Patrick's Breastplate, (I bind myself this day to the strong power of Christ...), the medieval chant hymns like "Veni Creator Spiritus," and so on. For me, they evoke a reverence and a passion that I seem only to scrape the surface of in my, "Hey, God, it's me, 'Anselm'. . ." type prayers. I've never left this kind of prayer behind, though.

So I guess I just encourage James and whoever else to dig in. . . the riches of our tradition are so abundant and, IMHO, so underused.

Another thing about conversational prayer from a Protestant perspective may be that it might be *our* way of speaking to God while reading the Bible would be God's way of speaking to us. Just like what Vatican II said about God and man talking with each other. But then does that mean we Catholics don't have to read the Bible and just pray in meditation hopefully getting some kind of message from God? Or should we, or in fact, are we required to read the Bible in order to get God to speak to us? Which would be better do you (any of you) think?

Hi,James. I don't think we are required to read the Bible, although I feel God speaks to us through the Gospel readings.I believe we need a healthy balance between prayer, whether it be meditative or more formal, and Scripture. I also feel that the balance can change depending on our state in life, and what we may be more receptive to at any given time. At times I experience a dry period of meditative prayer, and I'm drawn to the Bible. I think the key is to be open and sensitive to whichever means the Lord uses to "make contact". Just my .02!

My .02 - I use rote prayer as a quick fix or calming sense, and I talk to God with questions and praise and thanksgiving because one I'm not to good at memoriztion and 2 becasue I get interupted so much by the kids that I can't get a whole Our Father in at once. But one of my favorite ways to pray when I "can't" is put on cd or tape crank it up and sing praise and thanksgivng or plead with God thru song - as St. Augustine said singing is praying twice or thrice or something like that and soooo sing on brothers :)

All Hail the touting of song as praise, especially in a house with toddlers! Whenever things get crazy around here I put on a CD. The roudier the kids are being the more peaceful the music, but sometimes we enjoy 'rocking out' to our favorite Christian Titles. For soothing them down I use John Michael Talbot or instrumentals of stuff they know by heart. When I haven't had much time for prayer in a certain day and I still need to clean, make dinner, etc. there is nothing better than becoming "the singing mom" and lifting our voice in prayer. Thanks for the thread.

As concerns Catholics reading Scripture to hear form God and "meditating" to hear from God being two different things-our meditations in prayer would usually be on verses from the Bible, just as the Rosary is a series of meditations on the life of Jesus, as portrayed in Scripture. The book, "Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola" is credited by the Holy Father as having formed countless numbers of saints in our Church, so this might be a good book for you to start with. Another personal favorite is by St. Frances de Sales, "Introduction to the Devout Life". Each of these books are more experiential in nature, rather than talking about prayer. I found "Fire Within" (previously mentioned)to be an invaluable companion resource while reading the works of St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila, who are masters in mystical prayer. The most important thing about prayer is to never give up and remember it is about loving and honoring God, not about what we necessarily "receive" from our prayer time.

I can't plug Fire Within enough...:>):>)Great book.

Your post made me reflect, there really isn't ao much difference between the Protestant extempore prayer and Catholic memorized prayer as the Protestants would like to believe. I am by no means fluent in Cantonese--never have been--and it has been twenty years since my husband and I regularly attended a Cantonese Evangelical church, but I can still produce the standard "extempore" prayer that everyone repeated when called upon to pray in public!

Was it [...] who made a distinction between the prayer of talking to God and allowing God to speak to us? She was right. And immersion in the Bible can also allow God to speak to us. When I was still in the Pentecostal church, I heard a minister speak and was deeply impressed by it--he said that Christ is the Word of God and the Bible is the Word of God, therefore when we read the Bible we take Christ into ourselves and become more like Him.

This is an idea which has theological pitfalls, one of the most interesting of which is that it makes Bible reading a sacrament, but look where it got me--straight into the Catholic Church.

Here's my .02.....I use memorized prayers & just have talks with God, Jesus, The Blessed Mother & my favorite Saints. My biggest problem though is getting all the stuff (laundry needs to be done, what to cook for dinner, did my son learn enough today) out of my head long enough to really concentrate on prayer. Being a Homeschooling Mom means having very little time for myself, and don't get me wrong I wouldn't change that for the world, but how do I clear my head long enough to have a meaningful prayer life? Any suggestions? God Bless.

Several people I know (myself included) started getting up 1/2 earlier to allow time for prayer. In the early AM, before others in the family arise and you mind has engaged in the day's activities, you can find the peace and quiet for prayer.

[...],I was just going to ask a similar question! My problem is that ther is so much going on in my life that I find it creeps into my prayer life, no matter how hard I try to focus. Currently part of my problem is physical--due to this cancer treatment I went through a period where hormone deprivation made my brain so fuzzy I was saying Hail Fathers and Our Mary's (ok, joking, but close!!!Scary when you can't get through a prayer you've known since childhood!). And now my system is so hyped up on medication that I find that when I say a Rosary my mind wanders all over. I did that before at times so I can't totally blame my condition, but it seems worse now. So any suggestions as to how to maintain your focus are greatly appreciated!

Maybe you could have the prayers in a print out in front of you and each verse is spaced well apart so that you can focus on the message of each verse. Also, you should ask God to give you more concentration to focus in on just Him. It works for me.

There are booklets available with pictures to help your focus; one is from Catholic Heritage Curriculum with a picture for each Hail Mary. It helps both the very young, and the elderly and others in need to follow the thread of the meditation. Also the very fatigued (me, usually).

I also came to the point that [...] mentioned of getting up earlier in the morning when no one else was up yet. At first it was 30 min. earlier and then gradually over a number of years it became an hour. What is wonderful about this time is that I go right into prayer rather than allowing myself to even think what day it is, etc (unless I know I can't have a full hour). I can relate in some way to the difficulties of prayer with illness/medication/etc. Sometimes I am unable to do the morning hour because of a chronic condition and this leaves me feeling so disconnected, even though throughout the day I do grab all the time I am able (I homeschooled the past 5 years so understand how little time there is!). Two rosary helps for when I cannot meditate well have been a Rosary with Dana CD and a little Fra Angelico pamphlet with a sentence after each Hail Mary to keep you in the particular mystery. Another means can be praying with an Icon. Henri Nouwen's book, "Behold the Beauty of Icons", is very good for explaining the gazing "prayer" before an Icon. And sometimes when I am really sick I mostly just repeat the Name of Jesus over and over and try to offer it all as generously as I can muster up. I have read that suffering can be the purest form of prayer and certainly realizing how weak and totally dependent we are on God to even be able to PRAY to Him can only help us grow in humility. Even getting up 15 minutes earlier every day to pray can be used powerfully by God, so don't let thinking you should have a bigger amount of time stop you from even starting! I sadly remember the year that I kept telling God I couldn't get up earlier because I needed that sleep and the refreshment He subsequently has given me on far less. Blessings,

You know [...], you just made me realize something I should have realized along time ago. It is that prayer is not just talking or thinking the spoken messages to God or anybody. It can also be meditating in His Love and just getting yourself immersed in His Glory. That can also be prayer too so it seems. However, I wonder if you can do that with Mary. I suppose you can't assuming that Mary can not read minds. What do you people feel?

I like to just pray what is in my heart. What I'm worried about or what is heavy in my life. And if i'm praying for someone, it is helpful to try to empathise (sp?). I am struck by the prayer Jesus uttered in Mark 7:31-35. To me, He had such empathy for the man that His own prayer took the only form the man was capable of using. I would like to come close to this. Pax,

Id like to recommend two books about prayer:
1."As Bread That Is Broken" by Peter G. van Breemen (1981) Dimension Books; ISBN: 0871930528
2."New Seeds of Contemplation" by Thomas Merton, Rev. edition (November 1974) W.W. Norton & Company; ISBN: 081120099X
Both are available through Amazon.com