So your list of New Year’s resolutions is complete and “Pray regularly” is somewhere near the top. But how do you get started and, more importantly, how do you keep this resolution from going the way of so many other past good intentions?
Surveys say only about 20 per cent of Canadians pray regularly. Of those that do pray, most say they are dissatisfied with their prayer life. This is a sad commentary on one of the most vital, significant and renewing practices of the Christian treasure trove.
Prayer is our fundamental link with God. Without it, our spiritual lives will inevitably stall, shrivel and die. As Martin Luther said, “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.”
If you are like most Anglicans, likely the last time you received instruction on how to pray was confirmation class. So the spirit might be willing but the technical know-how might be weak. Don’t be embarrassed by this. Even the disciples had to ask Jesus to teach them how to pray. Ask your priest for help—it will be a welcome interruption from the many church governance, property, finance and community concerns.
Jesus himself didn’t seem to struggle with knowing how to pray. But it appears he did struggle with finding time to pray. The gospels tell of many occasions when Jesus attempted to pull himself away from the crowd in order to find a “lonely place,” only to be dragged back into action. This can be a real issue for many active Christians who have found the busyness of their church work getting in the way of abiding with the originator of that first call to ministry.
Next year is likely to serve up many challenging political, environmental, global and economic issues. Prayer is not a self-help strategy to numb us from the anxieties of life. Instead, it empowers us to see with eyes of hope, spiritual vigilance and divine direction.
As Karl Barth, the 20th-century Protestant theologian said, “To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.” If we are to become an instrument of peace and an advocate for justice, then let’s get praying!
Steps for starting to pray.
1. Expand your definition of prayer.
Prayer is simply communication with God. A more poetic definition comes from Bishop Stephen Cottrell who describes prayer as “the lover coming into the presence of the beloved and saying, ‘I love you.’” Prayer is based in a relationship and can happen anywhere at any time. It happens with the daily office or while walking in nature. It can be in a deep and honest conversation with a beloved or in the awe and wonder of standing in the middle of beautiful architecture. Prayer can be expressed in exuberant dance or in the silent stillness of quiet.
2. Find a form of prayer that gives you joy.
There may come a day when prayer is a deep struggle but for now simply choose the path of delight. Music, poetry, structured liturgies, beads, dance, icons, walking, doodling, journaling…. Choose one that fits your temperament and tastes.
3. Be open to the new world of apps and online resources.
Check out Pray As You Go, a 15-minute daily session of scripture and music put out by the Jesuits of Britain.
3-Minute Retreats from Loyola Press are simple and lovely.
The Centering Prayer app of Contemplative Outreach provides a beautiful experience of silent contemplation.
Forward Movement of the Episcopal Church US has numerous daily devotional resources along with a chance to reflect on your prayer experience online.
The Northumbria Community provides a daily Celtic prayer service. Find one or simply open a prayer book and locate a daily office or family home prayer services.
4. Make a space and set a time.
Put your planned prayer time in your calendar, set your alarm, inform family members and get your material out and in place before you begin. A Bible, journal and a pen might be all you need.
5. Start small.
Set a reasonable and achievable goal like, “I will commune with God for five minutes, three times a week.”
6. Build in accountability.
Ask a trusted friend, family member, church member, spiritual director or clergyperson to check in with you to see how it is going.
If you need any help along the way, do not hesitate to reach out:
Dawn Davis, Diocesan Faith Formation Coordinator