Sustaining Our Prayer Life
- A Study Guide
by the Reverend Noel E. Bordador
Sustaining Our Prayer Life
Life as (Unceasing) Prayer
Apostle Paul said “Pray without ceasing.” (1 Thes 5:17) We can only pray unceasingly if we consider life itself as prayer. Prayer itself should not be viewed as one more thing to do in life. Prayer is woven into the fabric of life.
Nevertheless, we must habitually take time to place ourselves consciously before God. Though we are always standing in the presence of God (for God is always with us everywhere and at all times), we are not always cognizant of this.
This study guide is not about teaching you how to pray. I presume that each one of you, each one of us already prays. This study guide is basically to explore ways to sustain our prayer life in the long haul, especially when we hit a snag.
What is Prayer?
-“Prayer is a friendly conversation with the One (God) who we know loves us” (Saint Teresa of Avila).
-Prayer is a conversation between two friends.
-Prayer is a conversation with two lovers- we who love God and God who loves us.
Why do we pray?
Some people pray to request something from God. (Nothing wrong with this. But this is not the only reason.)
When we converse with people we love, we tell them how much we love them, why they mean so much to us, and to thank them for their love. Likewise, we pray to tell God that we love him, that we adore him, and to thank him for his love.
Through prayer, God gives us strength to face life. By prayer, God nourishes us. It is our spiritual food for the journey of life. Like food, we must take it daily and regularly.
By prayer, God silently communicates with us and in this communication, God transforms us to be like him. Prayer is God’s way of transmitting to us his divine life.
In prayer, we also seek to discern God’s will for us in our life. In prayer, we seek to align our life with the will of God. Unless we pray and listen to God in our lives, we cannot do his will.
Characteristics of Christian Prayer
Christian prayer is about seeking/conversing with/listening to God in Christ. Christ reveals himself definitively (though not exclusively).
***It involves not just talking to/talking with God; it involves listening to God.
Organizing One’s Prayer Life
Time. Psalm 119:64 makes mention of “Seven times do I praise you.” Because of this early monastics made it a habit of punctuating the day and night with prayers and they pray at least seven times a day. While we are not monastics who could pray seven times a day, we are called to pray habitually.
Place. We can all pray anywhere and any place. But throughout history, humanity has always marked places of prayer. It would be good to choose a specific place where you would be less distracted.
Preparation. Before the actual prayer time, one may choose to dispose yourself to prayer by some preparation in order to separate the time of prayer before other activities preceding it. This is a way for one to focus one’s mind on the action of prayer. There are ways to prepare. Here are some ways:
Method/Forms of Prayer
Prayer of the Church/Liturgical/Communal and Private
Someone said that the prayer is the lifeline of the spiritual life, with Sacramental/Communal Prayer as the heart and private prayer as the blood that nourishes this heart.
Vocal and Mental
The Use of Silence. To “listen” we must quiet ourselves- quieting our minds and senses. There is a spiritual saying: “In order to see clearly the reflection of the moon on the water, the water must be stilled.”
Physical and Spiritual
The Spiritual Use of the Body. We use the body in prayer- for instance through our lips, our senses of touch (taking the Bread and Wine, for instance), sight (e.g., reading the scriptures and prayers), hearing by listening, and smell (e.g., incense)., by breathing (as in meditation), or taste (as in tasting the Lord in the Sacred Bread and Wine of the Altar). The body is sacred to prayer.
Struggles in Prayer
Not Wanting to Take Time to Pray.
Doubts and Boredom.
Instead, remember the words of Saint Teresa of Avila “When we pray, we are not there to be entertained but to gather strength from God.” Or, what Saint John of the Cross once said, “God values more your effort at prayer even when you suffer from boredom and dryness and receive no consolation or experience good feelings.”
Lectio Divina (Sacred Reading): Praying the Scriptures
When we speak, the words we use reveal something we want to convey. The Gospel of John (Chapter 1) speaks of Jesus as the “Word of God.” By calling him “Word of God,” John is saying that Jesus conveys something about God’s love for us. Jesus is God’s revelation of his love for us and the world. This Word of God speaks to us through other means- Scripture, Sacrament, through our neighbors or nature. When these things convey Jesus to us, it is said that they are also vehicles of the Word. It is then the reason why the Bible is also called the Word of God because it reveals the Supreme Word. We hold the Scripture as sacred because it is one of the means by which God speaks to us.
When approaching the Scripture, we do not read it solely for information (like we read the newspaper or a book). Rather, we approach it with reverence because through it God speaks to us. Rather than say that we READ the Scripture, it is more accurate to say that we PRAY the Scripture.
This could be done either alone or with a group.
Lectio Divina is an ancient form of prayer established by Saint Benedict of Nursia in the 6th century. It is a way of praying the Scripture by which Jesus the Word of God feeds us and nourishes us.
Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scripture to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Some other points:
Contemplative Prayer: Jesus Prayer
Sometimes love is not expressed through words. A lover may simply gaze in love on one’s beloved. Contemplative prayer is gazing on God with love. No words are said but love and prayer is communicated.
Silent contemplative prayer is also used to quiet the mind in order to receive the silent communication of God to our souls. When our mind is preoccupied and disquieted, we can’t “hear” clearly.
One form of contemplative prayer is called “Jesus Prayer” and probably originated from the monks living in the desert of Egypt in the 5th Century. The prayer is popular in the Eastern Christian Church. It uses the Name of Jesus as an anchor during the time of silence. Without this anchor, the mind will wander aimlessly.
Jesus Prayer Beads
In some Christian traditions, many find it helpful to use prayer beads. The Eastern Church uses a prayer rope (with beads). The Roman Catholics uses rosary beads. Anglicans have their own prayer beads as well. The use of beads is useful in doing the Jesus Prayer which quiets the mind and heart in order to center the self on God. One can’t listen to God unless one’s mind and heart is quiet. We need to reduce the external and internal chatter to become centered on God. The Jesus Prayer re-collects the scattered pieces of self, reins them in and collects them before God.
I myself use prayer beads tethered in a circular shape. It has a cross and ten beads. They are readily available, or you can make one yourself. It’s easy to make. All you need it a small Cross, ten small beads and a string.
Place your fingers on the Cross, and start your meditation with the beginning verse of praise and petition for help like the following or some other short prayer:
+ God, come to my assistance. Lord, make haste to help me. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.
• For each of the following ten beads, one does the (one full) breath prayer: “Jesus” until you reach the Cross again and say: Holy God, holy and mighty, holy immortal One: have mercy upon us.”
One can go through repetition of cycles. I usually do a minimum of thirty minutes, but you can do less if this is something new to you. You can always increase the time. Do not overdo in the beginning lest you tire yourself quickly and give up on the prayer.
One ends the time with a simple prayer of thanksgiving or the Lord’s Prayer.
© 2014 Noel E. Bordador
Noel Bordador is a queer Filipino worker-priest in the Episcopal Diocese of New York.
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