Blog # 467 Lord, teach us how to pray.
Twenty years ago, on one occasion when I was praying my breviary while walking back and forth on the front porch, a young boy came by and asked me what I was doing. I told him "I am praying," Then he said "What is that?"
He had asked me a difficult question. Prayer is an experience, and the only way a person can really know what it is, is to have that experience. It surprised me, and I suppose even sort of shocked me to realize this boy was not familiar with the experience of prayer. I think I told him it was "talking to God".
When he would come by at a time when I was feeding the chickens, sweeping off the porch, cleaning the house, or hanging up the laundry I never remember him asking me what I was doing. While it was true he probably never actually did any of these things himself, he knew what they were and did not need to ask in order to identify them. But when it came to prayer that was a completely new thing, a stranger, a mystery, a question.
A classic definition of prayer is this: Prayer is a lifting up of the mind and heart to God, to adore Him and thank Him, to make up to him for our sins, to implore His blessing upon our life, and to ask from Him what we need to know and do His will. To pray is to experience a personal conscious response to God as present to us at that particular moment. In popular terms, prayer is "talking to God", living in the presence of God.
The essential elements of any genuine experience of prayer are two: God's presence, and our conscious personal response to God present to us. Whether we be on our knees, with hands folded, focusing our minds upon one or another series of thoughts or words, whether we be alone or with others, whether we are sad or happy, healthy or ill, does indeed have a bearing on every one of our experiences and on that of prayer, but these elements do not constitute the essence of prayer. Prayer essentially and simply is a personal conscious one-to-one response to God.
Prayer can be private, when we are alone, or public when we are with others. Prayer can be formal when it is expressed in a set formula of words or thoughts taken from a book of prayers or some other source, or spontaneous when it is expressed in words or thoughts that come directly and originally from the heart.
Prayer can be silent, not expressed in words or sound, or vocal. Ritual prayer is prayer that is expressed in some form of symbols, such as incense water fire. The Church's official public prayer is referred to as Liturgical prayer, or the Liturgy.
In manuals of moral theology we read of an obligation to pray. It is pointed out that just as there is an obligation to be thankful and appreciative to those around us in our daily human experience of life, so there is a similar obligation with regard to our response to God. As we are to make up for and repair any damage or harm we have done to those around us, so it is with regard to making up for our sins before God through prayer. Rather than specify "morning and night" , though this is highly recommended, we are told of an obligation to pray "regularly", which is generally interpreted at least daily.
A special obligation to pray is given when we are conscious of temptation and at the time of our death. We realize this may not be possible at the actual time of our death on the calendar because of our physical condition, but we can and should identify the response we wish to make to God at that real future moment well beforehand in the prayer that answers the question; "What is my response
before the Lord to the life I have lived, to all that God has given to me, to all that I have done?'
Even, and especially, professional athletes continue to practice to improve their skill.
Genuine scholars continue to study. Great scientists are always making further investigations and are on the lookout for more information. Saints have always been interested in developing the quality of their prayer. May we share their interest and desire. Lord, teach us to pray.