BY JOHN RYAN
Although the specific focus for the Year Of Grace may be elusive for some, it’s quite clear that all of us can hope that our prayer life will grow through the experience.
The official literature speaks of “prayer to better know Jesus and His Story, praying with more focus, praying with more stillness, more time in prayer, more frequently, praying in a style that may be new to us.”
While I have heard and read much over the years about prayer and struggled to be a prayerful person, I could not claim to be particularly good at it. My best wisdom on how to pray comes from the Spiritual Letters of Dom John Chapman, in a reply to an enquirer. He writes:
“The only way to pray is to pray; and the way to pray well is to pray much. If one has no time for this, then one must at least pray regularly. But the less one prays, the worse it goes. And if circumstances do not permit even regularity, then one must put up with the fact that when one does try to pray, one can’t pray – and our prayer will probably consist of telling this to God. ... As to beginning afresh, or where you left off, I don’t think you have any choice!” [p.53]
Given that prayer from our side is our effort to make ourselves present wherever and however we are to our ever present, caring God, then whenever we turn our minds to that task we are praying! It’s a bit like the Nike ad. “Just Do It”; or like riding a bike, just get a bike and try and proceed from there.
I have also benefitted by the suggestion that the mystery of prayer embraces four identifiable moments or dynamics: reading, meditation, prayer and contemplation.
In this understanding, reading refers to a reflective review of whatever matter is before us. It might be a passage from the scriptures, a letter from a friend or foe, a news article or whatever. The idea is for us to roll it through our consciousness looking for anything that might specifically catch our attention.
Some spiritual writers liken this to “raking” as one would rake over the soil looking to find an article of value. A more contemporary image might be a person using a metal detector looking to find something of value in a field!
Meditation can be likened to chewing over whatever has come to our attention seeking to discover the significance of why we are being engaged by it. “What is God calling us to through this insight?” could be an appropriate question for us in this phase of our prayer.
Prayer as petition or “prayer as such” is where we move to asking – seeking – knocking persistently for some discovered and desirable benefit; and contemplation is finally waiting patiently in expectation for that benefit to be delivered according to the will of God.
As I understand it, all of these four moments are present in any rounded prayer exercise though any one of them, or grouping of them, might be the focus of our prayer time at any particular period of our life - be those periods days, months or years!
Sometimes my prayer is reflective reading, sometimes meditation, sometimes prayer as such and sometimes contemplation.
Pope Benedict in his Post–Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Verbum Domini of September 2010 highlighted the importance of the Lectio Divina as a prayer form for the renewing Church. I like to see the above exposition of the four moments of prayer as a simple witness to Lectio Divina as filtered through the life experience of an individual struggling pray-er.
Would you agree with the proposition that for Grace to be effective it must be responded to, and for it to be responded to it must be recognised, and it needs prayer for it to be recognised?
Fr John Ryan, who lives in Canberra, has spent much of his 49 years of ministry working in renewal projects, especially with priests.
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