People of faith are supposed to pray every day. How many do? I do not know, but I would wager a hefty bet that, of the number of people claiming to be people of faith, only a small percentage of the total pray daily. Over the years I have been in many conversations with people who all make similar claims – I do not know how to pray, OR I cannot pray.
I am sympathetic to this feeling as I have frequently felt the same way. I have prayed “the daily offices” which are a good but not particularly personal. I have prayed my way through the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola, and that is an incredible experience. You learn much about God and yourself and how the scriptures will inform your life if you enter into them (if you can find a quality Spiritual Director that is properly trained in how to lead the Spiritual Exercises, I highly recommend you try them). As much praise as I can give for the exercises, they are not necessarily the way you pray as most people think about prayer – AND, 8-10 months after starting you are done and left to pray without that structure. Finally, I have prayed utilizing Lectio Divina and have found it incredibly beneficial and a great way to continue living in the scripture text after the Exercises are complete. That said, lectio is still not how most people think about prayer.
Part of the problem, at least in the western world, is that prayer has been reduced to “prayer requests” AKA asking God for what we want – often divorced from any other communication with God. In other words, people frequently approach God as strangers asking for hand-outs. Prayer can become (or is) cold, impersonal, and too much like talking to the ceiling.
How then, when I greatly enjoy the Exercises and Lectio, and find value in the “Daily Offices” do I pray when I simply need to have a conversation with God? Reality is, I rarely did – although all the time realizing that I should. Then I started praying with a rosary. There are two points to make here. First is that I like rosaries in that I just like them. I love the look and feel of a well-worn rosary and thinking about how many times it has been an aid to prayer. I have been given rosaries over the years and always appreciate getting one as a gift because, as I said, I simply like them. In spite of the many rosaries I have received over the years, I have never actually “prayed the rosary.” That brings me to my second point. I said that I started to pray with a rosary. I did not say that I started praying the rosary. At this point there may be some confusion.
Here is the bottom-line. The most recent rosary I have received is actually part of a larger gift of rosaries to a group of pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago. It would have simply taken its place along with the others, but as I ran the beads through my fingers I began to pray “the Jesus prayer” (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me – some add “a sinner”). With every bead I repeated the prayer. By the time I worked my way around to the Crucifix I was aware of things I needed mercy for and entered into that conversation with God. I worked my way around again but this time adjusting the prayer – Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, help me forgive others. By the time I worked my way around to the Crucifix I was aware of forgiveness that I needed to extend to others and entered into that conversation with God. I worked my way around again. This time adjusting the prayer with a simple plea for my family. By the time I worked my way around to the Crucifix I had in mind certain needs within the family, and I had that conversation with God. Finally, I adjusted the prayer one more time – Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, thank You for Your mercy. And, by the time I had worked my way around all the beads with that simple prayer and was once again at the Crucifix, I was aware of areas of mercy in my life that I had not previously thanked God for and I had that conversation with God.
Do you want to enter a conversation with God? I hope so. Are you having trouble getting into that conversation? Many people do. Might I suggest to you that you pray something simple to focus your attention on what you would like to talk with God about.