Reflections on Prayer

Reflections on Prayer September 30, 2018
Segovia, Spain. Overlooking Saint John of the Cross’ Carmelite Monastery

Walking a daily prayer practice is an important part of my Christian prayer life. I am particularly drawn to the contemplative and monastic cycles of prayer. Over the last several years, I have tried many different practices. One common theme has been the Psalms. I love reading different translations of the Psalms, especially more liberal translations such as Stephen Mitchel’s A Book of Psalms. I currently am using the NRSV translation in my Psalmody, but have also used the Revised Grail Psalms translation and the Book of Alternative Services Psalter. I have even read the Psalms in Spanish, while I was walking the Camino de Santiago this summer. I have also used variations on the prayer book such as a Franciscan Book of Hours, the Thomas Merton Book of Hours as well as a Christine Valter Paintner’s Praying with the Elements.

What initially drew me to the Hours, was its correspondence with the diurnal and seasonal changes of life. My first experiences with daily Mass and chanting of the Psalms, was at a monastery in Oregon as a Monastic Life Retreatant at Our Lady of Guadalupe Abbey, in Carlton, Oregon. As one monk I know says, Lauds and Vespers are the hinges of the day, and the liturgical cycle is itself an expression of the entire Christ mystery. My ideal prayer schedule would be at sunrise, noon, sunset and evening. Incorporating traditional prayer forms such as the Benedictus, Magnificat, Angelus, Psalms, Lectio Divina and Centering Prayer.

Icons have also become an important part of creating a sacred space for prayer. Lighting candles and incense help me get into the mindset of prayer. I have a small altar where I place icons, incense and candles and seasonal elements collected on walks. I meditate with icons of my favorite saints, and pray for their intercessions, especially around vocation and spirituality.

I try to keep a prayer journal. Every time my daily prayer routine feels like it needs a bit of a shift, I write down what I have been doing. I have worked through a number of arrangements. From iPhone apps of recorded monastic offices, to daily lectionaries. These days, I have a rigorous, but doable weekly prayer schedule.

  • 20 minutes of Centering Prayer daily.
  • Read a chapter of two from the Old Testament, Psalms and Gospels.
  • Spend about 10-15 in ‘Body Prayer’, or a kind of asana practice with the Jesus Prayer and Our Father as mantras.
  • I pray the four mysteries of the Dominican Rosary at least one a week, with the Sorrowful and Glorious mysteries on Friday and Sunday respectively.
  • When I walk anywhere, I pray the Jesus Prayer.
  • I pray the Angelus three times a day.

I do not always check every box, nor do I worry so much about the list as a list of to-dos. They are a range of apophatic and cataphatic practices that I give myself over to in order to see how God will manifest Godself to me in the practice. Much of my Centering Prayer is filled with the act of bringing myself back to my Sacred Word. Much of my Body Prayer is staying focused on pose or stretch I am working through. Each is a subtle practice, and each provides an opportunity to return to God. A phrase that continually affects me is one from the Benedictus prayer from Lauds:

“In the tender compassion of our God

the dawn from on high shall break upon us,

To shine on those who dwell in darkness

and the shadow of death,

and guide our feet into the way of peace.”

The idea of spiritual darkness has come to mean a great deal to me as I struggle with feeling God’s presence in my prayer life. God’s tender compassion, the compassion of a patient gardener, whose gentle touch and shining light returns day after day is slowly ripening in our souls even if we cannot yet see any green shoots. The roots go deep before the leaves emerge from the soil. This ancient victory song as spoken by Zechariah when his ability to speak was revived, speaks to the deep healing power of silence and darkness, even when we do not fully understand what God is doing with us and within us. Daily prayer harmonizes our bodily experience of light and darkness in the world with the same ebbs and flows in our souls.

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