In last week’s blog, I talked about growing in good works through prayer, fasting and service and how they unite us to Christ. These are the three tools we have in our spiritual toolbox to resist sin and follow the path of true love. I find Lent is a perfect time to examine my choices and search the desert within me to evaluate my motivations. I can learn, with God’s grace, where I am flirting with darkness and then make a conscious decision to snuggle up with my Creator instead of turning to the fleeting relief the world provides. Prayer helps me see my life as God sees it and assures me I am loved.
Over this past year, I have learned a lot about prayer. It has shifted my perspective, broadened my mind, and softened my heart. Most of my life has been focused on the realm of petitionary prayer, asking God for what I think I need. God has such an interesting sense of humor as rarely what I think I need is what He thinks I need. Does God ever say to you, can you just shut up and let me love you? This is the heart of prayer. How much time are you allowing god to love you, to embrace you?
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.Focus on His truth James 4:8
Ultimately prayer is the key to our relationship with God. Our level of humility, the foundation of prayer, correlates to our ability to receive the gifts and fruits of its goodness. Upon reflection, my prayer life shifted after I learned what it truly means to be humble after praying this Litany of Humility with regularity a few years ago – whoa!
There are so many ways God invites us into a relationship with Him that is both personal and communal. He speaks to us through His Son, Jesus Christ, the Word-made-flesh. Prayer is our invitation and response to God who is waiting to reveal Himself to us. In the Catholic Christian tradition, prayer engages our whole person in a relationship with God the Father, through the Son, and in the Holy Spirit.
Many of us think of prayer as the expression of spontaneous or reflective thoughts or feelings expressed in words but there are three types of prayer: vocal prayer, meditation, and contemplative prayer. They have in common the recollection of the heart. (Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) 2721)
Keep in mind that the biggest obstacle to prayer is just doing it.
If you are resisting the habit of prayer, perhaps a good place to start is to tell Him why and ask for His help in cultivating this habit in your life. After all, we are given the gift of self-discipline we just need to own it! With my growing humble heart, I look at prayer as a commitment to spend time with the most important relationship in my life.
The rest of this post synthesizes the three different types of prayer. It’s a bit lengthy but I hope you find it a good resource to use to allow God to love you through prayer. Let me know what you think in the comments and how you deepen your prayer life.
There are so many treasures available to us to align our heart with God. This month, I have started using the Praying from the Heart guided prayer journal – it is an amazing resource to unravel the thoughts in my heart and mind and learn how to “abide in Him” (John 15:5).
Vocal prayer is based on the union of body and soul in our human nature and associates the body with the interior prayer of the heart. An example is Christ praying to his Father and teaching the Our Father to his disciples. I was fascinated to learn that there are five methods of vocal prayer:
- Blessing or adoration – This is where we exalt the greatness of God and acknowledge our dependence on Him in all things. Because God blesses our heart, our hearts yearn to return to Him and bless Him. The Mass and other liturgies of the Church are full of prayers of adoration or worship.
- Petition – This is when we ask God for what we need – primarily spiritual needs, but physical as well. Our prayer should always include a statement of our willingness to accept God’s will whether He directly answers our prayer or not. Forgiveness and every true need are the objects of the prayer of petition.
- Intercession – Praying for others is an important part of prayer as this leads us to pray as Jesus did where we are not concerned with our needs but with the needs of others. This prayer knows no boundaries and must even extend to our enemies.
- Thanksgiving – It is crazy, but prayers of gratitude or Thanksgiving are the most neglected type of prayer. We are strengthened when we stop throughout our day and thank God for all the good things that happen to us and to others. Recognizing the seeds of goodness being sown in our world. Give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thess 5:18) When I wake up, I find offering my thoughts, my words, and my heart to God for His purpose help order my day.
- Praise – Prayers of praise acknowledge God, give him glory for his own sake beyond what he has done but simply because HE IS – This is being Smitten With Goodness! These prayers reflect to him His goodness as David does in the Psalms.
Meditation engages thought, imagination, emotion, and desire. Its goal is to make our own faith the subject considered, by confronting it with the reality of our own life. It is a Christian practice of prayer dating back to the early Church.
Meditation is above all a quest. The mind seeks to understand the why and how of the Christian life, in order to adhere and respond to what the Lord is asking. By meditating on the Gospels, holy icons, liturgical texts, spiritual writings, or “the great book of creation,” we come to make our own that which is God’s. To the extent that we are humble and faithful, we discover in meditation the movements that stir the heart, and we are able to discern them. It is a question of acting truthfully in order to come into the light: Lord, what do you want me to do? (CCC 2705-2706).
An essential form of Christian prayer, meditation is especially for those who are seeking to answer the vocational question, Lord, what do you want me to do? and how can I be the best version of myself?
- The Rosary is a beautiful tool for meditation. As a convert, I never understood the fascination Catholics had with the Rosary. Now I get it. A few years ago, I became curious and took a 30-day Rosary challenge. That led to saying a daily Rosary for lent. Now it is a daily habit and gift I give to myself. By meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary, I get to know Jesus through his mother’s eyes, seek the promises of the mysteries and obtain their fruits. It is an antidote for anxiety and keeps my gaze and heart firmly planted where it should be. If you are new to the Rosary, you might join a community like ManyHailMarysAtATime to learn and pray daily with over 3,000 people online.
- Lectio Divina is a method of praying the Scriptures. What better way to get to know God than by spending time in His spoken word? St Benedict made it a regular practice in his monasteries. This is different from a bible study which can be valuable as well. There are many forms of Lectio Divina but they incorporate the following elements:
- Read. The first element of this type of prayer is reading (lectio): you take a short passage from the Bible, preferably a Gospel passage and read it carefully, perhaps three or more times. Let it really soak-in.
- Reflect. The second element is meditation (meditatio). By using your imagination enter into the Biblical scene in order to “see” the setting, the people, and the unfolding action. It is through this meditation that you encounter the text and discover its meaning for your life.
- Respond. The next element is prayer (oratio) or your personal response to the text: asking for graces, offering praise or thanksgiving, seeking healing or forgiveness. In this prayerful engagement with the text, you open yourself up to the possibility of contemplation.
- Rest. Contemplation (contemplatio) is a gaze turned toward Christ and the things of God. By God’s action of grace, you may be raised above meditation to a state of seeing or experiencing the text as mystery and reality. In contemplation, you come into an experiential contact with the One behind and beyond the text.
Contemplative prayer is the simple expression of the mystery of prayer. It is a gaze of faith fixed on Jesus, an attentiveness to the Word of God, a silent love. It achieves real union with the prayer of Christ to the extent that it makes us share in his mystery. (CCC 2724)
Centering prayer is a receptive method of Christian silent prayer that prepares us to receive the gift of contemplative prayer, prayer in which we experience God’s presence within us, closer than breathing, closer than thinking, closer than consciousness itself. It is a relationship with God and a discipline to deepen that relationship. You can learn more about this type of prayer and join a community to practice this discipline.
Nature can be a mirror for God. Going on a nature walk and noticing my surroundings can be a form of contemplation. I enjoy noticing and contemplating birds when I can be in nature at our Peace of Heaven. When I’m in the city, I am able to notice and contemplate God’s wonderful nature through Whoop Jenny and the beautiful birds she meets.
When was the last time you really sat with the Lord in prayer?
If you sense something is missing in your life, even though you think about your faith often, perhaps it is time to get quiet and lean into the one who created you! We can consume resources about prayer, read devotionals, and learn about our faith without ever coming to Him. We can depend on self-care, as defined by our culture, to refresh our soul when all we need to do is shut up and let God love us! If you need support, please let me know as I would like to assist.
Praying for our Smitten With Goodness community,