Sunday, June 30, 2013

Not Alone: Prayer

Week Three's topic in the "Not Alone" series concerned prayer: "How do you pray? Tips to staying disciplined? Give us anything you've got!".

Prayer is something I have blogged about before.  I wrote these tips on ways to make devotion easier for everyone.  The important thing to remember is that the Church provides many different forms of prayer and worship, and though some may be more popular than others, many of them are optional.  Since you all know how much I love lists, here's my top five favorite forms of prayer:

  1. Starting with Structure and then working from there.  I like to begin my prayer time by either reading a Bible passage, reciting a written prayer, or thinking about an inspiring quote, and then using it to help me form the rest of my prayers.  I think it is important to make sure that all of the prayers you recite are pre-written.  Going "free-style" and coming up with words yourself that best communicate what you need, how you feel, and the depth of your gratitude and love is important.  But, when you notice that you're just rambling on, then it's time to turn to one of the many wonderful prayer books that Catholic companies are publishing.
  2. Quiet MeditationIt is very important to make sure that you do not forget to add this regularly into your life (something that I need to remember).  I've written about how to meditate like a Catholic- and must caution everyone against the many resources out there that talk about centering prayer- which is harmful and not correct.  St. Francis de Sales's book An Introduction to the Devout Life is the absolute best Catholic meditation guide that I've found so far, but I would love to hear from you all about other resources you've found helpful.  Taking time to quiet your heart and just listen is essential; if you spend all your time asking God for guidance but never stop talking long enough to hear His answers, then you'll have a much harder time discerning His will.
  3. Hymns.  Some parishes use the annual Breaking Bread hymnals, and throw out the old ones each year upon receiving the new ones.  If you can somehow save one of those for your own personal use- do it!  I have an old hymnal that I love to use; I'll sit quietly, find a hymn, and quietly sing it, really taking time to reflect on the words.  For those of you who are not used to doing this, I would suggest "The Summons" as the perfect starting point.
  4. Novenas with different reflections for each day of prayer.  Aquinas Press has some absolutely gorgeous novena books that have a new reflection and picture for each day of the novena.  Novenas help one carve out time for God each day, grow in devotion to the saint of the novena, and are often very helpful in discerning how to best handle a situation.
  5. The Rosary is a devotion I am working on embracing more fully.  It is the perfect way to combine the above four into one prayer.  It is very structured, but allows for many different personal twists.  You can stop and really take time to meditation on each mystery, you could sing the Ave Marias if desired, or you could simply end the Rosary by singing the Salve Regina instead of speaking the "Hail Holy Queen".  And you can do Rosary novenas for different intentions, or add your particular novena prayer to the end of the Rosary.  This devotion has been highly recommended by the Church, many Popes have devoted entire encyclicals to promoting its use, and the amount of people who have found peace and clarity as a result of praying it regularly speaks for itself.
In order to stay disciplined, the trick is to start small.  Start with maybe the Morning Prayer in the Magnificat, or a hymn like "City of God" when you wake up, and a quiet meditation on your day, ending with an Act of Contrition at night.  Expecting too much right away is only going to cause you to burn out quickly, and thus not stick to any plan.  Start small, give yourself a schedule, and change it up regularly.  Also, make it enjoyable- something you look forward to doing.  If you love drinking tea or coffee, start your day with your favorite brew and a chapter of the New Testament.  If you love exercising, go for a run and as you warm up say a prayer for strength physically and mentally, and as you cool down ask God for the discipline to stay strong throughout the day.  Say a Rosary in the car, pray the novena together at dinner time.  Allow God to permeate every aspect of your life, and soon praying regularly will not be something you have to think about, it will be a habit.

How do you like to pray?

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