Becoming a Person of Prayer

Note: In this Religion Roundtable, we've asked the authors of three prominent faith memoirs to write about their views on—and experience of—female spirituality. Check back here every few days to hear Jana Riess, Lauren Winner, and Sarah Sentilles discuss the unique religious questions facing women today.

I have loved this roundtable (and I love reading roundtables, I will say, like on Slate). I am sad to see it wrap up! But prayer seems a good note to end on.

Prayer, as Richard Foster once wrote, catapults us onto the frontier of the spiritual life. And prayer is fascinating, endlessly fascinating. I would read about prayer all day. Of course, reading about prayer is much easier than actually praying, which is one reason I have so many books about prayer.

As for me, liturgy has more or less always been the skeleton of my prayer -- prayers from the prayer book, be that book the siddur or the Book of Common Prayer. On that skeleton I have hung lots of modes of prayer (and sometimes hung no prayer). For the last two years, I have been exploring doodling prayer, as laid out by Sybil MacBeth in Praying in Color. I have found this kind of prayer transforming.

I have been trying to become a person of prayer for 30 years now, and never before have I had the experience of an hour of prayer's feeling like 10 minutes. I know I will eventually come to a time when doodling prayer no longer "works for me" in this way, and then the discernment will be: Am I being called to go deeper into this mode or praying, or am I being called to explore something new? But I am happy for that season to come later. I am happy to enjoy, to just enjoy doodling prayer so much right now.

Also, I have been trying to learn a little something about breathing prayer. I don't really know what I'm doing there; I am following some guidelines from Thich Nhat Hanh. I am trying, as I breathe in and breathe out words of Scripture, to remember that God is breath, that God gives breath and is breath, to remember that God breathes through me, sustains me with breath, and that I somehow am participating in that sustaining with God.

As Henri Nouwen wrote, "When we speak about the Holy Spirit, we speak about the breath of God, breathing in us." That is the place I am being taken by breathing prayer.

Religion Roundtable
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3/4/2012 5:00:00 AM