The thought of praying – of beginning to pray – can sometimes seem intimidating.
What is prayer and how do I pray? What do I need in order to do it? How will I know if I am doing it right? And what if I do it wrong? The reality of prayer is, perhaps not surprisingly, considerably simpler.
Prayer spans three broad categories – vocal, meditative and contemplative. This final type – contemplative – is considered to be the highest form; it is that prayer which does not seek anything except to be present to the Lord, to contemplate Him. It is also the type of prayer which is hardest to achieve – in fact, it is not us who ‘achieve’ it, for this particular form of prayer is very much a grace which is granted to the soul.
The first two types of prayer – vocal and meditative – are a good place to start in prayer for most people. Vocal prayer is, as many of the Saints have told us, simply a conversation with the Lord. It can take the form of conversation, similar in this respect to any other conversation – but we should be mindful that in good conversation, we listen as much as we speak. It can aslo take the form of the recitation of particular prayers. And so a simple Our Father or Hail Mary is a very good place to begin; we have these prayers because they express our needs very well and very simply.
Moving on a step further, a prayer such as that of the holy Rosary is excellent – it uses these vocal prayers but also allows us the interior space to begin to meditate; it no longer simply the vocal prayers alone – rather, these become something of a springboard into thinking a little deeper about what our lips are saying. Put simply, prayer moves from the mouth to the heart and mind.
Excellent though this might be, there are many who will struggle with this – such people may then think they cannot pray, they have not the ability needed. But this is not true. The trick here is to find a different way to express the prayer or to engage more effectively with it. Rosary beads work because they are tactile; but it might be that looking at a picture helps to focus the mind and heart and so to enter into the spirit of prayer. Or perhaps listening to a particular piece of religious music, or holding a religious item such as a Crucifix.
If we try to be a little imaginative we will move forward – each of us knows ourselves best and what does (and does not) work for us; use that self-knowledge in the pursuit of prayer.
For most of us, prayer will often be manageable to some degree but there will also be moments when it seems near-impossible, for a variety of different reasons. That is simply the way of it. In those moments, it may be that even the simplest vocal prayer is beyond us; but also in those moments, a simple movement of the heart or the will or the intention, toward the Lord is sufficient. He sees what we intend, even when we do not manage to achieve it.
If any of this strikes a chord with you, then know that you are not alone in the desire to pray – nor in the occasional inability to do so. Do what you can to maintain a life of prayer and to seek to move forward in that life of prayer; don’t be content to remain where you are.
Remember that prayer is, ultimately, a gift of divine grace – so ask the Lord to grant it and to keep on granting it.
Ask the Blessed Virgin to help in this intention – remember how She united Herself with the Apostles in the Cenacle, prior to the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Even now, She prays with and for the Church – and with and for every single one of us.