5 Steps to Kick-start Prayer
- I’m no expert. The practise of prayer has been with me for most of my adult life and yet I consider myself to be green; not a guru.
- On the other hand, what are clergy to do if not to pray? These are merely observations which have lodged with me along the way. If any of the following steps help, then we have succeeded!
- There are masses of books on the subject; some are worth reading. This is not a book, merely outlines of significant steps in prayer. The best use of your time is to start with step 1.
- But before we start, a definition of prayer might be helpful. This one by Archbishop Michael Ramsey is a good as any: prayer is to consciously put ourselves in God’s company. (1)
- I’m very happy to discuss any of these points further with you, either on line –firstname.lastname@example.org -or by telephone, 01572 748634.
- If these 5 steps are helpful in any way, we can continue with a further 5 steps but it would help to have your comments.
- So, let’s get going!
Step 1: Motivation.
- The urge to pray does not lie in the heart of everyone but by clicking on this link you have taken the first step. It is one of the most difficult of the lot in my experience and you have done it. Congratulations! It may be small – perhaps only driven by curiosity – but it is hugely important.
- I believe that there is an innate curiosity in most people to explore mystery and there is no better vehicle for doing that than prayer. Through it we can discover something of the contours of that mystery we call God, something more about ourselves and thus how we might relate together.
- Motivation comes in many guises: curiosity, desire, aggression and many other forms but it is there. It moves us forward towards God: the impetus behind this search is secondary and should not distract us.
Step 2: Place.
- Where should we pray? It is important to find a space which is comfortable but in which you can be alert. Trying to pray in bed is fraught with difficulties! What about a comfy chair or a garden bench? It’s useful to go to the same spot each time. I find it difficult to pray when I’m uncomfortable so be gentle with yourself, especially if you’re over 21. Spiritual gymnastics are for the young!
- Praying in church is a huge advantage as the architecture and decoration also speak to us of God, ‘where prayer has been valid’.(2) But this pandemic has forced us to exercise our faith at home, where God is also present.
- You might want to focus on a living flame, an icon or picture. It will help when your mind begins to wander, as it surely will. You will regularly struggle but that struggle is also part of your prayer, just as rushing across Victoria Station to meet a friend is also an element of your friendship.
Step 3: Time.
- In this lockdown we have plenty of time but it if is not organised it runs through our fingers. Mornings slide into afternoons; days get confused. Some form of order is required.
- Prayer is no exception. We need time to reflect, to ‘centre down’ as they used to say. How long should that be? We are all different. If you have itchy feet or a pressurized diary, then all you might expect of yourself is to say The Lord’s Prayer gently, with deep breaths between each phrase. But if you are more inquisitive – and I hope you are! – then aim at 10 minutes, even though your mind might start to wander.
- If your mind is focussed on intercessory prayer then it is only fair to give each subject – your poorly friend, your grieving uncle, the famine in Yemen – some of your mental energy. Mull each one round your heart and mind for a few moments. Extract the juices. Is there an impulse there which might suggest that there is something you can do to alleviate the suffering?
Step 4: Language.
- In the gospels, Jesus addresses God as, “Abba, Father” (Mark 14.36). It’s the language of a child: ‘daddy’! Begin the conversation. Tell God how you feel: elated? Sad? Angry? Guilty? These are all classic parts of prayer. (ACTS is a useful mnemonic: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication). But if you feel that such an approach is too forward or disrespectful then chose the verse of a hymn, The Lord’s Prayer or psalm to begin the conversation.
- Find your most comfortable mode of being consciously present with God. We are all different! For some of us words stream forth as verbal diarrhoea; for others, they will be star-struck , diffident, more formal. Yet for others, words are no use at all. What is necessary is just to be with God, consciously – like two wordless lovers.
- Most of us start with intercession, in ordinary language. Nothing wrong with that! However, you might like to classify your requests under 5 headings, suggested by praying hands together: those nearest and dearest (thumbs); those who point the way, carrying authority (index finger); those at the top of society; the weakest and finally ourselves (the little finger). Kids stuff really but it does help to spread out our concerns before God.
- In this lockdown situation, it is worth taking note of those who consciously opt for a solitary life such as the monastic community. A lovely introduction to prayer can be found at alonetogether.org.uk
Step 5: Ouch!
- ‘Pray as you can, not as you can’t’ is one famous piece of advice given by a monk to an enquirer. If none of the above seems to fit, then just sit with God consciously and allow him to caress you in the silence.
- Anglicans especially are so fixated on words and structure. “Poor little talkative Christianity,” bemoans E.M.Foster. We find silence threatening, even in our worship which saddens me. ‘Has the vicar forgotten’? You can be alone and silent with the God who created you. He knows the secrets of our hearts and will not ask of us that which we cannot deliver.
- But prayer is essential to our maturing, to our communities, to God’s world so keep on keeping on, whichever way you chose to do it. “Prayer the Churches banquet” (3). It is vital for us and for the work of the church.
- Michael Ramsey. ‘Be still and know’ page 73.
- S.Eliot, ‘Little Gidding’ 1.46.
- George Herbert’s poem, ‘Prayer’ – a wonderful subject for meditation!