Lent is a time for prayer, fasting and almsgiving. I can understand fasting and almsgiving. But how can I pray?
There is much to say on all these three which are time-honoured ways of living the Christian life. At certain points in history, some Christians began to believe that outreach to others was a distraction to prayer. However, the Church strongly condemned this aberration. Today, we are active in helping others but tend to neglect prayer.
Your desire to pray is already a prayer. Paul tells us to pray "without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5.17). He says he "prays night and day" (1 Thessalonians 3.10).
Does Paul's advice mean we have to spend our lives on our knees? Obviously, Paul didn't. At least, it doesn't look like it when we read Acts of the Apostles or his letters.
Paul's whole life was a prayer and ours can be too. Every breath we take is prayer. Our every action is prayer. When we become aware that the Trinity make their home in us, all is prayer. That's what it means to be a follower of Christ. The early Christians understood and lived this form of prayer.
Were the 30 years Jesus spent in ordinary tasks any less valuable than the last three? During Jesus' public life, at intervals, we hear of his going off by himself to pray. But often, in the hustle and bustle of life when he is about to perform a miracle, we hear about Jesus thanking the Father for hearing his prayer.
Jesus prayed spontaneously; we too were created to be praying persons, to sit at God's table and to live in communion with God.
Paul tells us that when we don't know how to pray, "the Spirit prays in us" (Romans 8.26). This attitude undergirds our life for, we know that of ourselves, we can do nothing but all things are possible to God present within.
Christian prayer is always a response, a special kind of awareness, of consciousness, of attention. It can be a simple experience of awe before the beauty of a sunset or an anguishing moment of accepting tragedy.
There is no doubt that a life of prayer is nourished by spending quiet time with Jesus listening. Set yourself a specific time to pray. A short time is better than taking on a long period which you may not be able to keep.
There is a multitude of ways to pray. Traditionally we talk of vocal, meditative and contemplative prayer. But each of these has as many ways of praying as there are praying persons.
Vocal prayer uses words, our own or those of others, to speak to God. Sometimes, these are the only ones that work as when we are angry or hurting. Here, the psalms which are full of anguish ending with utter trust in God are very useful. It's no wonder that Jesus prayed the psalms during his agony on the cross.
Reflection on Scripture, using the mind and imagination, is a fruitful way to pray. Read slowly, simply staying with what is presented or place yourself in the text with Jesus.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux tells how, when very young, she used to enclose herself in her bed curtains and just "think" about God and life. A five-year-old boy who had lost a much-loved brother would sit alone in a tree. When asked what he was doing, he responded, "A guy has to have a place to think." We all need a time and place "to think."
Sometimes, prayer is just being there with God, without the need for words or even for thought. This contemplation is not an easy place to reach in our hectic life. But when we accept that prayer is more Christ's work than ours and we open ourselves to God's action, then Christ can give us the gift of prayer.
However, prayer is more than our solitary search for God. It is the work Christ entrusted to the Church. When two or three are gathered in prayer, Christ has promised to be there. Early Christians saw the liturgical assembly as the truest prayer with all other prayer derived from it.
Paul and the early Christians were convinced that Baptism inserted them into the person and life of Christ. To be baptized was to become another Christ. St. Augustine (354-430) reiterates this belief: "Do you understand the enormous grace God has given us? Stand in awe and rejoice - we have become Christ."
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