Friday, March 13, 2009

Lent Offers Opportunities to Explore New Prayer Forms

By Marilyn Kirvin

The Season of Lent calls us to clear out space to listen more deeply to the Spirit’s voice in our hearts and lives – thus we are encouraged to pray during this time. One of my favorite descriptions of prayer comes from Sr. Wendy Beckett, who wrote, “The essential act of prayer is to stand unprotected before God.” She goes on to say that if we do that, God will take possession of us, which is the whole purpose of life.

Most of us, however, feel the need to do something while we’re standing unprotected before God – hence the development of prayer practices. Recently I facilitated several evenings of exploration of prayer for a small group titled, “Discover Your Style of Prayer.” During each class I explained several prayer practices. These included Lectio Divina (praying with scripture); the Ignatian practices of contemplation (imaginative prayer) and the Examen of Consciousness (looking back at the day to remember God’s presence and call); walking the labyrinth; conversational prayer, and others. Participants would then try each practice, followed by discussion about our experiences and insights.

In those sessions, and in spiritual direction sessions over a number of years, I have heard many of the same freeing insights when people open themselves to prayer. I share three here:

1. With prayer, pay attention to what you want to do rather than what you think you should do. Sr. Wendy, when asked what people should do during prayer, says, “stand before God unprotected and you will know what to do.” It is important to pay attention to how we feel drawn to pray. There are many different prayer forms, and none are “better” than others – but some are a better fit for a particular person’s temperament, life experience, or where they are at a given time of life. One Lenten suggestion is to try a new kind of prayer. A spiritual director, or book or workshop could introduce you to something you haven’t tried before. Or, go back to a practice from the past that you want to try again, and see if you still find life there.

2. Trust yourself. Often someone will say to me, “I don’t really pray,” but when we talk more we discover that he or she does, in fact pray, but may not have been calling it that. Or, we may think we don’t pray well enough, and assume others are praying better than we are. As a spiritual director, I can tell you this is a very widely-held belief. We all pray, we’re made to pray, and if we pay attention to what we desire, we’ll figure this out. In this regard, one fruitful way of praying can be to listen to our bodies to feel how our joy, pain, tiredness, stress, etc. are telling us what we need, and pray from there.

3. Be honest in your prayer. However we pray, God simply asks us to do our best to bring our whole selves there. Often people say they feel they can only bring certain feelings or thoughts to their prayer -- the “holy ones.” They believe their feelings or thoughts of anger, frustration, doubt, sexual feelings, and so on are not acceptable,. Our God is able to hold all our feelings, and nothing that we feel is going to anger God or turn God away from us. God wants to possess us – every part of us - to love us and accept us completely and help us to become our truest selves, the people we were created to be.

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