Part 6: How Do and When Do You Pray?

Prepared by Eleanor Lincoln, CSJ, and Catherine Litecky, CSJ
Women at the Well Ministry, St. Paul, Minnesota ©2004

Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing.
In all circumstances give thanks,
for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

How and when do you pray?

So far in this Busy Person’s Retreat you have been praying every day!

Through your prayer and reflection on how you use time you may have discovered a rhythm to help you live more attentively and loving.

You may have found the blessings of each day as part of your prayer.

You have tried to show increasing love to your family, friends, and neighbors?

Your work may have become more life-giving to yourself and to others.

You may have been delighting in the realization that God has created you and sustains you in life?

Busy as you are, during this Retreat you have been attempting to find God in your life. In this part of the Retreat you will find more specific helps for your prayer life.

Prayer is a loving attitude toward God and others. Praying is not part of living but all of living–if your mind and heart are always open to God’s grace and blessing. If you realize that prayer is more than the saying of set prayers, you can pray “without ceasing.”

As you know, formal vocal prayers are part of the prayer life of all people of faith. You probably learned to say vocal prayers as a child in your family. And you probably continue to pray formal prayers in your private prayer times and in community worship. The greatest of Christian prayers is the prayer Jesus taught to his disciples, the “Our Father.” Regular formal prayer is an essential part of the life of all who seek to love and grow closer to God and neighbor.

What would be your answers to these questions? How and when do you pray? What is your rhythm of formal prayer during the day or during the week? Think about when and where you spend time in formal prayer.

But what about praying “without ceasing”? How is this possible? Praying without ceasing does not mean saying prayers, but rather trying to live in the presence of God no matter what else you are doing.

The apostle Paul in the passage quoted above is suggesting praying day and night, in joy and sorrow, at work and at play, without intermission or breaks. For Paul prayer is not part of his thought but all of his thought, not part of his feeling and emotions but all of them. This is radical! How can you live your life with its demands and obligations as an uninterrupted prayer? What about the endless distractions that intrude on you at all times? How can your sleep, your re-creation, your work be lifted into unceasing prayer?

A popular writer about prayer, beloved Henri Nouwen, writes, “To pray, I think, does not primarily mean to think about God in contrast to thinking about other things, or to spend time with God instead of spending time with other people. Rather it means to think and live in the presence of God” (America, August 5, 1978, p.48).

St. Teresa of Avila, a great mystic and teacher of prayer who lived centuries before Henri Nouwen, speaks of prayer as a conversation with a friend who loves her, the God who loves her. For you too such prayer moves you away from your own distractions and direct all that is yours to God in simple trust and love.

Some people have the great good fortune to have a soul-friend with whom they can converse on anything that affects their life. Not everyone is so blessed, but God’s love of everyone makes possible this conversation with God as a loving friend.

Take a few minutes now to talk to God about what concerns you at this moment.

Throughout this Retreat remember that God is your friend. You are always in God’s presence. In the language of today’s technology God’s cell phone is always turned on and God knows your number! What is God saying to you right now?

Today try to be open to a dimension of reality beyond your five senses and the material world. Put your love in action remembering to respect yourself and to have a loving regard for everyone you meet. This includes having a “passion for justice” for the suffering people you hear about from TV or the newspaper.

As you watch the TV news tonight, let peace and compassion be in your heart for all those you hear about. A Buddhist practice is to extend your peace to the whole world. This is a practice worth cultivating into a habit. Instead of being angered or frustrated by what you hear, you will be living the news with compassions and peace in your heart.

The point is that prayer is a relationship, an attitude, and not a matter to time spent. In an article entitled “Wasting Time with God,” (Weavings, March/April 1999) Marjorie Thompson, an ordained Presbyterian minister and spiritual director, writes: “I sometimes wonder if most of us do not live as if time spent with God in prayer were wasted energy – a superfluous exercise in an already over-exerted schedule” (p 27).

She continues with reminding her readers that petitions and intercessions have their place, of course. Didn’t Jesus encourage his friends to ask for what they need? But prayer is more than an activity for Sunday morning. Rather it is an encounter and relationship with God involving listening and responding. Such prayer is a discovering and enjoying companionship with God.

As a busy person, you may say, “I don’t have much time for prayer.” But don’t you have time, as you go about your day, to listen to God, to raise your mind and heart to God’s goodness, to say thank you for blessings received? Prayer means to acknowledge God’s presence in your life. When/how do you do this? These suggestions tie in with other parts of this Retreat but they relate this time to praying.

Use waiting time for God. Block out all sounds and sights around you, but include all the other people waiting in line, as you raise your heart and mind to God.

Pray in motion. While you are jogging or gardening or washing dishes, remember that God’s loving presence surrounds you.

Give thanks for little blessings. As you drive to work or on errands, tell yourself the good things that have happened to you in the last 24 hours and give thanks for them.

Help the traffic. Include the drivers in the next cars as you ask God to bless them with patience and good will.

Take time to be quiet, wherever you are. In silence you can hear what’s going on in the deepest part of yourself – where God is.

How has this Retreat helped you, as the retreat introduction suggests, “to get in touch with your true self” and to “find God in daily life”? Spend some quiet time on how and when you pray.

See if you agree with these words: “Prayer and life must be all of a piece” (Roberta C. Bondi, “The Paradox of Prayer,” Weavings, March/April 1989. p. 13).