How Should We Pray?
Prayer is something personal and varied. There are no recipes or magic formulas for praying. But the New Testament tells us one thing: “When you pray, do not use a lot of words, as the pagans do, for they hold that the more they say, the more chance they have of being heard. Do not be like them” (Mt 6:7-8). Prayer can be very serious and sober; prayer can also be filled with laughter. Prayer can consist in pouring out our heart before God, in lamenting and sorrow. Prayer can be made up of confession and shame and of surrender to God’s will. Prayer can consist of praise, which sings God’s glory, not for what God has done but for who he is; thanksgiving, which celebrates the wonders God has wrought for us in creation and even more miraculously in his work of salvation; petition, which is prayer that acknowledges our status as creatures and our total dependence on God; intercession, which is prayer on behalf of others that signifies our awareness of communion with all God’s people.
It makes us realize that we are a communion of saints who journey together toward God. The ways of prayer can also be distinguished. There is vocal pra yer which can happen spontaneously, but which also can adhere to set words. This prayer can take place quietly in one’s room, or in corn munity, whether in groups, in the family, or in the public liturgy. Vocal prayer also includes the rhythmic repetition of certain forms, such as the rosary or the Jesus Prayer. Beyond vocal prayer is meditative prayer, which is above all a quest to discover what God wants of us and what response we need to make to the divine will. Meditative prayer is sometimes facilitated by the pondering of a text, especially ones from Scripture, the lit urgy, or the works of the great spiritual writers. Meditation is not made up of clever thoughts or overwhelming pieces of information. These things do not give the soul its fill.
Only attentiveness to God and willingness to hnitate Christ lead us to a feeling of completeness in prayer. On another level beyond meditative prayer is prayer of the heart or contemplation. This prayer is a gift from God in which one becomes wordlessly aware of the presence of God and a union with him. The mystics often experienced this kind of prayer. All these definitions and distinctions should not obscure the fact that prayer is a simple matter. Pope John Paul II gives this advice: Pray any way you like, so long as you do pray.
Say prayers that your mother taught you. Pray any way you like, but you must pray. And never say: “I don’t pray because I don’t know how to pray!” because this simply isn’t true. Everyone knows how to pray. The words of prayer are simple and the rest follows. To say “I don’t know how to pray” means that you are de ceiving yourself. Yourself and who else? Who can you deceive about this? It always means some smallness of heart. Some lack of good will. Or sometimes of courage. It is possible to pray, and necessary to pray. Pray any way you like. From a book or from memory, it’s all the same. Maybe just in thought. A person can pray perfectly when, for example, he is out on the hills or on a lake and he feels at one with nature. Nature speaks for him or rather speaks to him. He prays perfectly (John Paul II, Cracow, 1962).