St. Paul tells us to pray without ceasing. Just what that means is not entirely clear; opinions range from continuously (literally, every waking moment) to continually, on a very regular basis. In the Eastern tradition, for example, it’s a recognize devotion to say the Jesus prayer under your breath as continuously as possible.
Me, I come down somewhere in the middle. As I related few months ago, I have a regular daily prayer schedule as a Lay Dominican, so I certainly do pray continually. But then, I fill in the times in between scheduled prayer with what I call “arrow prayers”: very short, targeted prayers about particular things, that I pray as the Spirit prompts me.
What I have done is learned to treat certain common kinds of thoughts and remembrances as prayer triggers, as events that trigger an arrow prayer. For example, my friend Marcus has just gotten out of ICU after three months and something like five or six brain surgeries. I’ve been praying for him on a regular basis, remembering him during the intercessions in Morning and Evening Prayer every day and also offering up a decade of the Rosary every few days. But on top of that, whenever I happen to think of Marcus during the day, for whatever reason, I say a quick prayer, something like, “Lord, bless him and keep him and make your face to shine upon him.”
It might be that someone has mentioned him; it might be that I remember something he once said, or how he responds to a particular kind of situation. But whatever brings him to mind, I remember him to God.
Recently I’ve been trying to expand this to people in my life who haven’t explicitly asked for prayer: to remember to pray for them as I think about them through the day.
Arrow prayers aren’t just for asking God to help people. Other triggers include moments of gratitude, especially for moments of beauty in daily life. If I’m especially pleased by something—the sunshine on the hills, a good day’s work after a bad night—I’ll shoot off a prayer of thanksgiving.
An especially useful trigger helps prevent road rage: when that (ahem) unpleasing fellow cuts you off in traffic, or won’t let you merge, or nearly runs you off the road, or is simply going to &%$*@! slow in your lane, say a prayer for him.
The neat thing about arrow prayers is that everyone has time for them because they don’t take up much time. All they require is a desire to pray them and attention to the triggers. There’s no cost, no special time or place: you pray them in the moment, and in praying them draw closer to God and bless others. What’s not to like?