What is this thing called prayer?

practice-Gods-presence“Be Still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46)

“When I reach for a single way of describing prayer the simplest word that comes to mind is openness. To pray, we must open our hearts. We must test first of all that God exists, and wants to know us, wants to hear from us. We must be open to interpret our experience in the light of grace.” *

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With the beginning of the Advent season, we begin another blog series on Liturgical Encounters.  In my spiritual journey, I have been perplexed by prayer. I have been inquisitive about prayer, even unsure of how prayer works. Am I using the right kinds of prayers?  Does prayer really work?  I feeling I am always asking for something in my prayer.  Is meditating just like prayer?  Do I just sit still and wait for God to say something to me?

As a child, I don’t remember having these struggles.  I said my bedtime prayers, prayed the Lord’s Prayer, always trusting that God is listening and knows what I needed and wanted. But as I grew older life experience seemed to change all that.
As we grow older, I believe we are all faced with doubts about our prayer life– what should I pray for and am I praying the right prayers and enough prayers;  God is too busy to listen to my prayers and so forth.  That child-like faith in God, in prayer, seems to drift away like the mist.  Our various challenges and struggles and even successes and prosperity seem diminish our faith in prayer, our understanding of prayer.

So, where do we begin to regain that child-like faith in the essence and power of prayer?  It might be best to start with a definition. What is prayer?  There are as many answers to that question as there are people on this planet. One definition of prayer that I have found meaningful is prayer is openness to God.  Being still in the presence of God.  Even if we are ranting and raving in our prayers to God, there still needs to be a stillness and openness deep down in our very soul. Another word would be vulnerability.  We must look past ourselves and be vulnerable to God.  We can’t pretend that God doesn’t know everything about us; every deep dark secret and every good and perfect quality of ourselves. Nothing is hidden from God.  We need to be vulnerable before God–be open to God’s omnipresence in our prayer.

Another definition I like is that prayer is a covenant relationship with God. Prayer is an act of relationship with God. Many of the great teachers of the Christian tradition and many other wisdom traditions speak of this “loving communion” with God.  John of Damascus called it “raising the mind to God;” Gregory of Nyssa–conversation and discussion with God; Augustine called it “an affectionate directing  of the mind to God.”  Teresa of Avila defined it “as an intimate sharing between friends.”  John of the Cross aptly described it as “a loving attentiveness to God.”

It all goes back to openness and being present with God–being present, in relationship with God.

This week as you journey, think about what prayer means to you? How are you open to God’s presence in your life?  How are you in relationship with God in prayer?

I look forward to taking this prayerful journey with you.  May we all gain more insight in prayer, may we learn to be still in God’s presence and open ourselves completely to God and know that God knows our every need and wants to be present with us in every moment.


Questions to ponder: What does prayer mean to me?  What is my favorite form of prayer? How does that prayer reflect my relationship with God?

Actions: Write or find a prayer that would help you deepen your relationship with God, help you become more open to God’s presence.

Peace be with you always.

*Emilie Griffin, Simple Ways to Pray: Spiritual Life in the Catholic Tradition, Lanham, MD., Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2006.










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