Here's part of a comment left by Jake on one of yesterday's posts:
one of the things that I remember really puzzling me was "how do you pray". How do you get/ try to get connection to the divine. this was never really explained.
This goes to the heart of what I worry about with "religious education" for both children and adults. It can be very hard to know how to learn spiritual practice
in a way that can be owned and portable. It's easy to find a way to learn the data
of the faith; it can be learned through a trustworthy director or it can be studied on one's own. It's easy to learn the words of the Our Father
or Hail Mary
, but to learn how
to pray, that's another story. There are lots of books on prayer, many of which are nonsense, but they will seldom tell you exactly what to do in order to pray.
I think this is partly because the concrete details and methods of prayer and spiritual practice depend a lot on personal temperament and state of life. In the course of my baptismal vocation I have lived as a lay secular, a lay religious, a lay secular again, a lay religious again, and finally as a religious cleric. My prayer life has shifted along with that. The course of this active religious life and ministry has made me a little more extroverted than when I was younger, and that has been reflected in my prayer as well.
I began to learn to pray through a mentor, and I think this is a good method with a lot of support in the tradition. Early on in my religious life I made friends with a brother who was really into the Centering Prayer method, and he taught it to me. From there I was led to read The Cloud of Unknowing
, St. John of the Cross (especially, early on, The Ascent of Mount Carmel
) and finally the prayer conferences of John Cassian. These have remained my principal teachers from the tradition.
Teachers of prayer are few and far between though, so someone who desires prayer has to be a "self starter" for sure. In this case I would recommend the use of a simple method to encourage the prayer of the heart and mind, beyond, beneath and above verbal prayer. Lectio Divina
, Ignatian style discursive meditation on passages from the Gospels, or Centering Prayer are all fine choices. Run with the one that seems to grab the heart at first glance. There is enough written about all of them, so it should be easy for anyone to find something to read. Commit to a certain time and place for prayer each day, and do whatever rearranging has to be done to be faithful to it.
The best contemporary introductions to the basics of the spiritual life I have ever come across are Beginning to Pray
by Archbishop Anthony Bloom, Celebration of Discipline
, by Richard J. Foster and Thoughts Matter
and Tools Matter
by Sr. Mary Margaret Funk.