Reflection of Prayer and Spirituality
Fr Owain Mitchell
Last month, I highlighted some of the key methods of prayer I personally use, and how, through reading, reflection and a rule of life, we are able to deepen our relationship with God. We looked at some of the reasons behind our praying, and why it’s important to ensure that we start off with a manageable discipline. This month, we look at the variety of ways of praying we can draw on. In order to summarise the key types of prayer adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication, I’ve included two models we looked at back in 2011. I hope these will be helpful to you.
Two of the simplest methods, which are very similar, and are particularly useful at the end of the day are the ACTS model, (Which I’ve copied verbatim from D.E. Taylor’s book, In His Presence, p.10/11) and the model which is based on one’s hand, which Ven. A. Hawes once described to me.
First love, adore and praise God in whom we live and move and have our being. Praise Him for his excellent greatness. Adore Him for Jesus Christ. Love Him because He first loved us and gave Himself for us.
A sense of all that God is and all He does for us at once brings home our own unworthiness, how often we fail to live up even to our own ideals, how poor our fight against temptation, how weak our efforts to pray better, how uncostly our work for others and for our Lord. So we confess these our sins to God, and ask forgiveness.
The knowledge that when we are truly sorry and really mean to do better, we are forgiven makes thankfulness dwell up in our hearts, and we set ourselves to remember our many blessings – health, home, food, work, friends, play, our Church, all the joy of being alive – and we return thanks to God our Father.
Having adored God, having confessed our sinfulness, having thanked Him for all His goodness, and loving-kindness, then and then only we ask for more blessings. We make our supplications first for the needs of others, for great causes, for friends and enemies. These are our Intercessions. Afterwards, we pray for ourselves we tell God our hopes, our joys, our fears, our desires, our needs. These are our petitions.
Such prayers are A-C-T-S indeed, true ACTS of worship.
These four – adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication – can be done en bloc, as illustrated above, or as separate articles. One day you may wish to focus on adoration, another on intercession. Or perhaps you find it easier to use one element, rather than another; you may carry many and heavy burdens which lead you to tend towards prayers of confession, and you struggle to find things to be thankful for in your life, or you may find spiritual comfort from praying prayers of adoration, but find intercessory or supplementary prayers difficult. Here, balance is important for our spiritual well-being. It’s good and right if we have a natural inclination to one form or another to focus our time and energies on this, but we also need to include the others, even if this is in a less central way. Just as we need balanced diet if we are to be physically healthy, the same is true for our spiritual health.
The Eucharist contains all of these individual elements, as we adore God, confess our failings, pray for the needs of the world and humanity, and share in Holy Communion. The word, Eucharist itself, means thanksgiving. Our daily discipline of prayer is, as George Guiver CR wrote, one way of keeping our spiritual lives boiling during the week. Fr. Guiver uses the image of a kettle, which we bring to the boil on a Sunday in the Eucharist; our prayer lives and other spiritual disciplines keep the water boiling during the week, metaphorically speaking. Without nurturing our relationship with God during the week, there is a possibility that our faith grows cold, the graces and blessings received in the Mass seem harder to recognise and God feels to be far off. We have to ‘reboil’ the kettle each Sunday from cold, rather than immersing ourselves into the hot water of our relationship with God as be join in our communal worship.
Other than praying the Lord’s Prayer, the simplest method I know is to simply sit in stillness and silence and think not about who or what I am, but that I am – that I am a beloved child of God. This is a form of meditation taught in a very short book, The Book of Privy Counselling by the author of The Cloud of Unknowing. Meditation can also be done by focusing on a bible passage and imaging oneself into the story. The method of Lectio Divina (Holy Reading) also uses bible passages, as one reads a passage, meditates on it and chews it over in our minds, which leads us into prayer, and that in turn leads onto contemplation. Contemplative Prayer is similar, but tends towards emptying one’s mind of all thoughts, and waiting on God in the silent stillness to speak to you, blessing you with moments of grace. The Cloud of Unknowing is one of the best known models of contemplative prayer. There are a great many different models or ways of doing these three – Meditation, Lectio Divina and Contemplation. As ever, don’t be afraid to experiment or to try different models, but don’t give up too soon or flit form method to method. Praying this way takes time, effort and faith. Each of these models, like the Eucharist, the Daily Offices, ACTS and any other model of prayer, is at their heart, about waiting on God, being attentive to Him and opening ourselves up to Him in love. Prayer is really about an inner movement, from the mind into the heart, from knowledge to wisdom, from worldly to spiritual. Praying is as much about listening at is it speaking!
Whatever methods or models of prayer we find helpful – individual or corporate, spontaneous or structured, using words or silence – they should help us to deepen our relationship with God, with each other and with ourselves. It may sometimes feel like we’re just going through the motions, but on occasions, we are blessed by our sense of closeness to God, and our hearts find that rest for which we long. Once again, I’ve only touched on the basics this month – there are so many other ways of praying we could explore. And remember, prayer is an act of the heart, not the mind, it’s your intention that pleases God, Almighty God, to Whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from Whom no secrets are hidden…