Respect for Prayer

Respect for Prayer

            I was once a little Catholic boy…  I recall verbal prayers such as, “Bless us, Oh Lord, and these thy gifts…”  “Our Father,” “Hail Mary,” the “Apostle’s Creed,” etc.  One of the most effective prayers I experienced, although I did not understand much of it as prayer at the time, were the long walks in the woods.  The wonder of the things of God and the non-verbal sense of peace and communion with nature were cherished in my youth.  I also recall the prayers of Penitence Monsignor Donahue gave to me.  I was a sure fire sinner and he gave me plenty of those types of prayers.

At a conversion experience in life, I left the memorized, rote prayers for what I thought was a “better way,” verbal prayers on my knees.  Sometimes I had lists of petitions I prayed about, in long, drawn out, and I am sure, boring prayers.  I thought I was doing my duty.  Still, on occasion, the walks in the woods and thinking about the things of God were prayers interspersed with those verbal prayers.

At another crossroads in life, a renewed prayer experience was the 19th Annotation.  I was gradually being drawn back into the Roman Catholic Church of my youth.  This drawing included new types of prayers to me, Lectio Divina, and meditation, which occasionally slipped into contemplation.  Then I discovered Centering Prayer, the thoughtless communion with the Divine Mystery, a resting in the Presence of God.  This seemed like a journey into Eternity, a fathomless, non-verbal communion with God, for longtime.  More often it was just a few minutes, but to me, it was enough.  One might think that, “Oh John, now you are really going somewhere up the ladder of ascent…  I even imagined myself I was making good progress in understanding how to pray, leaving behind the “banal” memorized payers, the lists of petitions, and now entering a “more advanced” state of prayer.

Hart speaks of the motivation to pray as being a call to union with God (The Art of Christian Listening, by Thomas N. Hart, p. 49).  The reason we pray is love (p. 51).  As to the methods of prayer, he speaks of many methods (p. 60-61).  Hart respects all methods of prayer, “Hindu, Buddhist, and Sufi traditions” (p. 49). As I mature in years and spirituality, I also respect all methods of prayer.  I wish I had known earlier in life, but one has to begin again when and where the grace is given, even if it is late in one’s life.

Teresa of Avila understood ways to pray at a higher level and at an earlier age in life.  She had a journey into stages of prayer which she likens to watering a garden.  She says, “I am one who underwent them for many years. [Beginner stages of prayer] When I drew but one drop of water out of this blessed well, I considered it was the mercy of God” (Teresa of Avila: Life, Ch. XI, Note 13).  I am a kindred soul on the same journey as her.  I like her tongue in cheek sarcasm, “I am a woman,” “write simply,” “you see my stupidity,” “my memory is bad,” etc. (Avila, Note 9).  Her explanations place some methods of prayer as for beginners (Avila, Note 10).  It isn’t that she disrespects anyone’s journey in prayer, but she points out we might want to advance a bit in how we draw water out of the well and how we water our spiritual gardens. We might like to be given the grace for prayer requiring less work on our part and more grace on God’s part for us.  Never-the-less, I respect the ways I used to pray, and the combination of ways I now pray.  It is crucial to respect all people’s prayers,

We are guests of this earth.  Our soul is a guest of our body.  Back when I was a little boy I must have been hard of hearing then too.  The first prayer I memorized was “Bless us, Oh Lord, for these Thy guests…”  I wondered for a long time, “When are the guests coming?”  I learned later it is really “Bless us, Oh Lord, and these Thy gifts…”  I think God respected both prayers and, since we are just guests on this earth, and our souls are just guests of our bodies, maybe God respected the first prayer I learned more than any prayer since….

Grace and Peace,

John Cooper

About jcooperforpeace
Peacemaker in Fellowship Engaged in Ignatian Spirituality, Active Nonviolence and Social Justice

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