Saturday, April 7, 2012

Six Ways To Pray

by Chris Mcals

What is Prayer?

The following is a list of the various stages we encounter as we journey to God through prayer.
There are at least six ways to pray, representing six different stages of intimacy with God. I have listed here the most common that are known to Christians who actively practice their faith.
1. Vocal Prayer
We Catholics recite many prayers beside the “Our Father.” We believe that those who have lived an exemplary life, and have since departed, are now closer to God and much more alive than we are, therefore they not only love us with God’s unconditional love, but they will also hear us when we address them with our needs. These are the Saints and the Blessed.
Sometimes people find it difficult to pray directly from the heart, so we Catholics often use ready-made prayers, when addressing God or the Saints. They are prayers that have been written down, and then passed on from generation to generation.
Many of these prayers are memorized at a very early age so that they become almost second nature. However there are prayers that, although they are used frequently on special occasions, are less widely known, so we simply read them, such as the Stations of the Cross and various types of Novenas.
Shorter prayers also called “Ejaculations” are very popular among Catholics, such as “Jesus, Mary and Joseph!” or “Praised be Jesus Christ!” or “Jesus, Mary, I love you,” to name a few.
There are also prayers like the “Hail Mary” and the “Hail Holy Queen” that we address to Our Blessed Mother, prayers to St. Joseph, prayers to St. Michael the Archangel and prayers to various Saints. There is a Saint for every occasion and so we have a prayer for every occasion.
The Rosary, of course, is one of the most beloved of Catholic prayers, and one of the most widely used. Then there is the “Jesus Prayer,” also called "Prayer of the heart," which is meant to be repeated over and over until it eventually ceases to be a voluntary repetition and it becomes a part of the rhythm of our breathing cycle of inhaling and exhaling.
Reciting Prayers can be done for a number of reasons such as petition, intercession, or for other  intentions. This is a practice that requires focusing on the meaning of the words we speak; otherwise it’s an exercise in futility.
This is the first and most ordinary stage of prayer. Some more meaningful type of prayer will eventually replace it or add to it as we grow and develop spiritually.
2. Prayer of Intercession
Everybody, regardless of denomination, is familiar with what is generally called the Prayer of Intercession or Petition. I must admit that I am always deeply humbled when someone asks me for prayers. This is how I do it:
I get in front of a picture of Jesus to help myself become recollected in His Presence, knowing that He reads my heart, so He is well aware of the fact that I’m embarrassed to have been asked to intercede on someone else’s behalf. After all, who am I that He should listen to me?
My heart is cold and I’m not sure how to approach the Lord, so I start by telling Jesus how this person needs His help. This is more for my benefit than anything else, because Jesus already knows everything, but I need to break the ice in my heart.
After awhile, tears start streaming down my cheeks, and I find myself begging Jesus to help this person that I don’t know. Out of the blue I find that I really care, and so now I’m begging Jesus from the heart. When and if that happens, I know He is listening.
When God enables me to pray from the heart with tears, I know that my prayer has already been answered, even while I’m still talking. Now I don’t need to go on talking, because I realize that the individual for whom I’m praying is being helped. My heart swells with gratitude, and I thank God with tears of joy for helping this individual.

I walk away from my intercessory prayer feeling lighter inside, and happy for the person to whom a favor has been graciously granted. I don't follow through, because I don't need to, but sometimes I receive a feedback that confirms what I already knew.
3. Lectio Divina
I love Holy Scriptures. They really are all we need for our safe Journey to Intimacy with God because the Bible is the Breath of God whispering His words of Life into our hearts.
The Words in Holy Scriptures are like honey pouring into our soul, they nourish us with the Spirit of Light and Truth. In them we find a reflection of that which is hidden within the living altar of our soul, waiting to be discovered, much like blind Bartimaeus waited to be seen and touched by Jesus to have his sight restored.
The Word of God is very often an expression of our deepest emotions, our deepest longing for God. It’s the dynamic narrative of humanity’s relationship with its Creator.
What better way is there to pray than using Holy Scriptures? When we pray the Psalms or some other passage from Holy Scriptures, we approach God using His own Word, because the Holy Spirit inspired the Bible. How can He not hear us?
While praying the Bible I sometime stumble upon a phrase or a verse that “jumps” at me by catching my attention in a very special way. It’s almost as if God were speaking to me through that word, phrase or verse.
What one should do when that happens is pause for a while, and savor the richness of the message that is being communicated. After awhile we may respond with some prayer of grateful thanksgiving, or with tears of joy, if they start flowing naturally.
We may also fall to our knees and bask in the Light of Divine Wisdom while holding that verse close to our heart as long as we can. This kind of prayer is called Lectio Divina.
4. Meditation
Meditation here is not intended in the same sense in which it’s understood in Eastern Mysticism; rather this word is applied to the Christian tradition of dwelling at some length upon some aspect of Divine Truth.
I use speculation and imagination when I meditate, even though I’m no good at either. But I supply with logic for what I lack in imagination. For example, since I’m a mother, it comes natural for me to imagine what it must have been like to be a mother during the times of Jesus in the Holy Land.
One of my favorite meditations involves spending some time with Mary, the Mother of Jesus.
Since children were considered a blessing in the old Jewish tradition, they must have been plentiful, therefore I can imagine that they played a big role throughout most of Mary’s life, regardless of whether they were her own or her relatives'. That means she must have been very busy in a world without washing machines, running water and private toilets. On top of that, she had to spin and sew for herself, the ever growing children and the elderly in her extended family, and she had to bake her own bread every day. She probably ended up looking older than she actually was in her later years.
It’s a safe assumption to think that there were other women living with Mary or at least very close to her, and not all of them may have been easy to get along with. I wonder how she dealt with them?
Not much has been written about Mary, because this extraordinary woman probably lived the very ordinary life of any average mother and housewife, which was taken for granted by the people of her times.
Mary must have been very familiar with grief. It must have been difficult to account for everyone at any given times, seeing that people lived at such close quarters and everyone was busy spinning, making bread, washing laundry, breast-feeding infants and so forth. The sudden loss of a young child falling into a well or ravine while nobody was looking might have been a common event, as was seeing children die from infection, malnutrition or dehydration.
Husbands, brothers and sons were often captured and crucified by the Romans, and many women also suffered from abuse, oppression and sheer indigence. There was no social safety net back then: People had to fend for themselves, so the elder were taken in and cared for by the younger relatives, until they died. Mary probably did the same.
I don’t think that Mary had the luxury of living alone. At the very least she lived with the family of St. John, since Jesus had asked from the Cross that John take Mary in with him, as her son.
John was still a young man when Jesus died, so it's safe to assume that his parents were still alive, and that there may have been relatives, perhaps even a wife and children, living with John at his parents' house. Mary became part of John's extended family, and she helped out with the daily chores.
People got sick a lot during Mary’s times, so I can imagine that she saw many people die, before and after the loss of her Son Jesus, on the Cross.
I could go on and on, but you get the idea. I pick up a topic from Holy Scriptures and dwell on it for some time, trying to squeeze everything I can out of it.
In my case I use a broad choice of topics for my meditations. They are not always about people. Sometimes I place the spotlight on some Eternal Truth and will meditate on it trying to understand as much as I can about it.
5. Prayer of the Heart

The following is the "Prayer of the heart":

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." And this is how it's done:  (breathe in - - "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God" - - breathe out - - "Have mercy on me, a sinner." Do this over and over until it becomes an integral part of your breathing pattern.
Here we must become spiritually minded – God comes first, God is Life. He wants to communicate, to share Himself with me. This is also an active kind of prayer, but it’s more intimate, more personal than Meditation. Here we open a dialogue with God that stems directly from the heart.
At this stage we offer our deepest aspirations of faith, hope and love to God, and we also listen to what He has to say to us, as if He were sitting at our kitchen table with us, eager to hear what we have to say to Him.
Some people find it easier to write letters to God, or perhaps they prefer to write a spiritual journal where they can open their hearts to God, without the distraction of hearing the sound of their own voice, and without any other inhibitions getting in the way.
This particular method of prayer can go on for many years, because most people find this to be a very satisfying way to pray.
When engaged in the prayer of the heart people truly have a sense of being in the Presence of God. They speak to Him, and He answers them, although not in an audible way. This is when God Himself teaches us His Eternal Truths, and we learn how to listen.
This is also where we can ask God to tell us ‘who we are.” He is our Father who will not give us anything but what we ask for in love and faith, such as Unity and intimacy with Jesus Christ.
6. Contemplation
Contemplation is a kind of "unknowing," which knows "All" in a non-specific way. It knows "All" not as something to be analyzed, categorized and controlled, as we do with everything else, but as the Self who is in Unity with the Source of Life. This is the Prayer of the Virgin Mary – Christ in me – I in Christ. It takes years to learn peaceful Contemplation. The soul feels a need for solitary prayer of the heart.
I have written at length on the subject of Contemplation also known as Centering Prayer, so I will only touch on it slightly here, allowing the video of Fr. Thomas Keating here below to further elaborate.

If I love myself much, I cannot go deep into the stillness and quiet of my center, so as to give Jesus reign over my heart.
The time eventually comes when it will seem that I have exhausted everything at the intellectual level of my relationship with God; there is nothing left to say, but love and a naked longing for God are still very much alive.
We will experience a need for silence and solitude, a need to sit quietly in the peaceful awareness of God’s Presence, almost like an old couple enjoying each other's company. They know each other so well that there is no need to say anything to find out what the other is thinking.
Don’t believe you are wasting your time by doing nothing. That’s a very common temptation.
Go down into the silence of God. Jesus, the Light of the world, will let His Holy Spirit pray within the recesses of your heart and mind. The result is peace, joy, and happiness.
Be content and happy in every day’s duty of life. Let others share your joy, your love and your prayer.

Fr. Thomas Keating on Centering Prayer - 7 min 52 sec.

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