Monday, September 7, 2020

Prayer and prayerfulness.

Whenever prayer is brought up as a topic in a conversation, the first thing that most commonly comes to mind is formulated prayer – the familiar and memorized phrases and words that have been composed and found in prayer books and manuals, and for the most part have been taught and handed down to us by our catechists, parents and teachers. 

And whenever I ask people (oftentimes during confession) to describe their prayer life, the first answer is that they “say prayers”, and go on naming the common ones like the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Glory Be.  While this may seem somewhat standard and rather rote for the Catholic, I hadn’t asked them what prayers they “say”.  So this can reveal that there is a common tendency to equate one’s prayer life to what one says or memorizes or reads when they pray.  While this is not wrong or bad in itself, there is a downside to restricting or limiting praying to these. 

It can cause us to think that anything that one does outside of those moments of reciting the rote prayers, that one is also then living in a non-praying mode.  This can lead us to live very separated and extracted lives, where we are in different zones, as it were.  While we are saying those prayers, we are in a zone of God’s presence and are reminded to lead somewhat holy lives, and outside of that time, we are in another zone – maybe a ‘secular’ or ‘worldly’ zone, where we are cut off from God and the awareness of being in the presence of the divine. 

Whilst this may be the reality that many people live out their lives, this is far from what the Church has always taught about prayer and spirituality.  Our prayers that we pray while praying are meant to lead us to live prayerfully. 

Being mindful during prayer is meant to lead us to mindfulness the rest of the day, just as our praying is meant to lead us to prayerful living.  It is when this link is missing in our lives that we easily fall into error and sin and choose instead to do things that hurt our relationship with God and with one another. 

A holy person isn’t one who is sitting in church 24/7, and isn’t necessarily one who is holding rosary beads even in one’s sleep.  A holy person is essentially one who lives out one’s prayer life outside of the times one is formally in prayer.  A jet plane can coast 33000 feet in the stratosphere only after it has engaged its engines at full throttle while still on land and has taken off as it faces a headwind. 

In the same way, our living well and mindfully in the busyness and hectic schedules of the day can only be done in holy awareness if we have begun the day with some time that has been set aside to consecrate the rest of the day that lies ahead and has yet to be lived.

That is why I always advocate and recommend that if only prays once a day, it should be the morning and not at night.  Certainly we should be doing both, where we hinge the day in the morning and evening, but where this is challenging due to various reasons, the morning is much more beneficial. 

This is because the rest of the day is still virginal, unexplored and is like a blank page that one has yet to write anything on.  Making a morning offering to God allows us to (at least with some intention) consecrate the remaining 16-17 hours ahead to live life in a way that is in line with how God would want us to live, and to relate with others in a way that would show love and charity.  This is where the Morning Offering charts the course of the rest of the day.

If the only time we pray is at night before we ‘hit the sack’, we are in effect squeezing out our last ounces of energy, attentiveness and love to God, and he really doesn’t get our best but our least and our last.  The day had been spent, and so are we. 

The essence and heart of prayer is to love God.  If the reason for our saying prayers is to get God to do things for us, and have not really set our hearts on fire with love for him, saying prayers is perhaps the only thing we have done, and have not yet really been praying. 

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