Sometimes, during prayer, we feel as if our litanies to God fall on deaf ears. But God is out there—as well as inside us—beaming forth love, goodness and inspiration. But it’s lost on us because we fail to pray, to tune in or open ourselves to God’s loving presence.
Actually, there are many prayer paths to God available to us today. In recent years, new approaches to prayer and contemplation have been developed. As a Franciscan friar and writer, I have many favorite prayers and I have collected over the years many ideas for enriching our prayer life.
Prayer: Recognizing What We Already Have
Whether we know it or not, we are already in the presence of God and united with God because God is everywhere. Prayer helps us bring to consciousness this precious bond we have with God and his saving love.
God’s presence is a gift, and we cannot force ourselves into living communion with God by a sheer act of will. Human friendship is similar. We cannot force another man or woman to be our friend. We can only offer our friendship to another and then humbly await the gift of his or her friendship.
The essence of prayer consists in this humble waiting—in a childlike spirit of openness, expectation and listening. To pray means to make ourselves present and available to God so that we are truly ready to open the door when Jesus comes and knocks.
Finding Your Own Pathways
Each of us is wise to find the styles of prayer that suit us. The Holy Spirit is the only true teacher of prayer, and without preconceived ideas we must let the spirit draw us to those ways of prayer that work best for us. If any of the following suggestions are helpful for you, wonderful.
If any seem out of sync with your temperament or cause anxiety, steer clear of those. Any good spiritual director will warn you against methods of prayer that do not harmonize with your spiritual gifts.
With this in mind, feel free to explore the following approaches to prayer. I trust that some of them—if adapted to your needs—can lead to a richer union with God.
Prayers of Praise
Praise is a form of prayer that belongs near the top of anyone’s list. Joyful and free, it preserves us from the false notion that prayer is cheerless. Praise is the bubbling over of the spirit. Often the spirit’s first impulse within us is that of bursting into praise and thanksgiving. Surely, one of our deepest human instincts is adoration, and we do well to let the spirit flow freely through us in words of praise. The Our Father recognizes this in its first exclamation: “Hallowed be thy name!”
Praise and adoration take us from our self-preoccupation and lead us outward to God and to the creation that bears God’s imprint. This is the key to the prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi, according to Franciscan author Murray Bodo: “Saint Francis praises God through Brother Sun and Sister Moon, Brother Wind and Sister Water and all creatures.”
Like Saint Francis, the spirit prompts us to celebrate our brotherhood and sisterhood with other creatures and praise God, not in isolation from creation, but through sunlight, rain, wind and flowers. Maybe it’s a good time for you and me to spend some time praising God in the woods, a garden or at the sea.