Is this your complaint, too? So many people tell me that, despite all their time at home trying to stay away from crowded venues, they just don’t have time to pray! They tell me that for prayer to be prayer, it has to be in the shape and form they learned in Catholic school: long, Scripture-based, and serious. They think that prayer must mention God (specifically Jesus or the Holy Spirit) and it has to sound as if it were being said in church during a solemn religious ceremony.
Do you find yourself listening to your church friends describe how they somehow manage to fit morning prayer, the rosary, spiritual reading and night prayer into their lives? Yet, the best you can do is get dinner on the table, kids to their myriad activities and maybe a load of laundry in the machine? No wonder you feel overwhelmed! You really want to have a daily prayer practice, but you just don’t know how.
Let me offer a few items for reflection. What is prayer? What do you want from your prayer? Describe your image of God. Describe any experience where you felt that you were in the presence of God. Prayer is simply communication with God. It does not have to be fancy. Most people want to have a relationship with God that involves an awareness of God’s presence. They want this experience to happen more often than just in church, they want to pray at home or at work or when they are out and about, and they want to feel that God is right there with them.
I tell them that they do have time for this and don’t have to add it to their calendar. How? By thinking of prayer as communicating with God. So, recall all the times outside of church where you felt God’s presence. Describe the place, the activity and your emotions. For example, you might feel God’s presence when you rock a child to sleep or when you read a story to someone at a nursing home or when you witness a random act of kindness. As you become aware of God’s presence and the emotions attached to the experience, you might even say, “Thank you, God, for letting me see your face today.” Or, you might have this E.E. Cummings poem handy:
“i thank You God for most this amazing / day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees / and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything / which is natural which is infinite which is yes . . .” (public domain).
I suggest starting your day with a simple intention: “God I want to be aware of your presence today.” Then offer that up and go about your day. You may be surprised by the moments you will be communicating with God (prayer) and how present God will feel to you.
That said, if you want a simple prayer book, get “Essential Mystic Prayers” (Paraclete Press 2018). The prayers are about half a page, written by a wide range of people, from St. Augustine to Joyce Rupp. I pick up this book before spiritual direction visits, open to a random page, confident that the prayer is exactly what is needed. Often, it is.
Our faith tells us that God is omnipresent, so it follows that God is present absolutely everywhere, all the time. Our spiritual practices of intention and attention can carry us into that awareness and fill our days with authentic prayer and many examples of God’s love.
“now the ears of my ears awake and / now the eyes of my eyes are opened” — E.E. Cummings.
(Kathy Berken is a spiritual director and retreat leader in St. Paul, Minnesota. She lived and worked at The Arch, L’Arche in Clinton from 1999-2009.)