Bootstrapping the Interior Life: Devotions

Boots Last time I talked about how spontaneity fails, at least for me, as an approach to daily prayer. So what’s the alternative? If I’m not going to sit down and simply pray from my heart at the stated time, what am I going to do instead?

The answer is to cultivate a devotion: that is, a prayer that is meant to be said daily. Low-church Protestants sometimes have trouble with this kind of prayer; it smacks of “vain repetition”. But as I pointed out, trying to pray spontaneously every day led me to saying much the same thing every day anyway. Vain repetition isn’t simply reciting a pre-existing prayer; vain repetition is reciting the prayer without focussing on God, and expecting it to do any good.

Devotions have many advantages over spontaneous prayer, at least in this context. (As I said in the post linked above: if you feel moved to spontaneous prayer, springing from your heart, by all means go with it.) It’s hard for us to know how we’re doing in the interior life. Feelings are not a good guide. But when you’ve said a devotion, you know you’ve said it. You know you have devoted that time to God. That’s an objective fact, and doesn’t depend on feelings. Granted, you need to be trying to focus on God during that time, and if you’re like me you often won’t do that good a job of it. But again, choosing to focus on God is not a feeling, it’s an act of the will, and you can objectively ask, “Did I really try to focus on God, or was I going through the motions?”

Sometimes, going through the motions is all you can do. But even there, God knows that you could have done something else with that time; and He will honor that. He’ll be on the job while you are praying, even if you’re only half there.

The Catholic Church has oodles of devotions, most of which I’m not familiar with. The two that I have used most consistently are the Rosary and the Liturgy of the Hours (also known as the Divine Office). I’ll have more to say about them in future posts.

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