I recently got a question about praying the Rosary that went something like this:
If you pray the Rosary all the time, doesn’t it just become this kind of robot-thing, like doing the dishes or something?
It certainly can. I’m very bad at praying, period, so my chief danger is not that I’ll pray the Rosary (or anything) badly, but that I won’t pray it at all. But sometimes I do manage to get my act together and behave like a Christian for a couple minutes, and in those instances, I’ve found some ways to pray the Rosary that prevent the robot-brain problem.
Trick #1: Cultivate an awareness of the presence of God.
I learned to do this from the Irish monks at Sacred Space, way back when I was a brand new revert with no children, and therefore more quiet time. You might try using that website for a bit, or Loyola Press’s 3-minute retreat as a starting point for practicing this skill. (Why yes, it’s a skill).
If you have the option of going to Eucharistic Adoration, praying the Rosary before the exposed Blessed Sacrament is another way to make your prayer more conversational.
Alone in silence in an empty church is good. Alone in the woods if it’s someplace that’s safe and not buggy is good. Alone in the quiet of your room in the evening with a few candles is good.
And then you just pray. The exterior quiet helps you with the interior quiet, and as you pray your Rosary just let your one intentional thought be about the presence of God as you are praying.
I’ll be honest: Mostly lately I grab a rosary, head out for a walk, and about twenty minutes in I become aware that I’ve been talking to God all this time and wasn’t even paying attention. It’s like thinking you’re singing alone in the shower and then suddenly you realize that you’ve got an auditorium full of spectators sitting in on your performance.
Trick #2: Put yourself into the mysteries and look around a bit.
This is basically a variation on Lectio Divina, but your scripture passage is the mystery of the Rosary you are praying. What this means, of course, is that you have to know the mystery already. So if it’s Monday and you’re praying about the Annunciation, you need to have read about the Annunciation in the Bible and already gotten the general gist of things into your head.
(Don’t use this as an excuse to put off praying. You can start with that snippet passage in your little Rosary booklet, and then over the years as readings and reflections come in front of your brain, flesh it out. It’s not like you’re only going to pray the Rosary once ever, right?)
So as you’re praying the decade on the Annunciation, visualize the scene. Close your eyes and see Mary at home. What’s it look like? What’s it smell like? What’s she doing? What kind of furniture is there? And the angel shows up. She’s afraid! How does that feel, to be afraid of an angel? And the angel tells her not to be afraid . . .
The point of this way of praying isn’t that you’re going to somehow magically visualize the exact furniture that Mary had in her house. It’s that you’re pulling yourself into the mystery of the Incarnation — of that meeting between God and the created world. Because you are praying, this practice of looking around inside the mystery will show you things about God’s relationship with you.
Trick #3: Bring your prayer requests into the mystery.
Often we pray on behalf of a particular person or cause — that’s intercessory prayer. If you’re good at that, you probably don’t read articles like this, you just go pray. But if you’re not a skilled pray-er, here’s a thing you can do.
Remember how you spent some time really pondering the different mysteries of the Rosary in trick #2? Well, sometimes you are on a long drive and can’t shut your eyes and think about how the donkeys smelled in the cave in Bethlehem when Jesus was born. But you can remember that when you were pondering that mystery — a different time when you could pray with your eyes closed without fear of perishing in a terrible motor vehicle accident — at that time you realized something or another about the mystery.
Let’s say, for example, that something that really grabbed your attention was the idea of Jesus coming into the lives of the Holy Family. Let’s say that idea just stuck with you. (You might have had a different insight. We just need an example so we can explain how this trick works.)
So now you’re praying for your friend who has cancer. So as you get to each mystery, take an insight from your previous ponderings over that mystery, and apply it to the situation at hand. For example, when you get to the birth of Jesus, you might pray that your friend will experience the healing presence of Jesus. Or that she can be Jesus to someone else. Or that the work of God will be apparent in the hospital through the ministry of the nurses.
Whatever — let God lead you there. The thing that you are doing with your brain is directing your prayer towards connecting your here-and-now concern with the mysteries of the Rosary.
So that’s what I know. I’m not very good at praying, but when I do manage to pray well, those are some of the things I do that have helped me. If you keep working at your praying, God will also work at it, and between the two of you (not a real secret Who’s doing the heavy lifting) you’ll experience spiritual growth despite yourself. Well worth the effort.
- You can enter this contest to win the print of the Hail Mary artwork from Sarah Reinhard’s new book (to which I am a contributor, so it’s like 1/somethingth my book too!). Looks like the contest is open until the end of the month.
- Here are Sarah’s Hail Mary hacks. She has seven, and I didn’t read them before I wrote this post, so any resemblance is because prayer isn’t exactly something new under the sun.