Grant, O our God, that we may know you, love you, and rejoice in you; and if in this life we cannot do these things fully, grant that we may at the least progress in them from day to day, for Christ’s sake. Amen. ~ St. Anselm
My family used to spend weekends on land my father purchased in the country. Next to the house, Dad had dug a well that operated with a hand pump. Each week when we arrived, one of the first things he did was to pour a little water down the well. This “priming the pump” caused water to flow when we needed it. Similarly, there are “priming” acts you can try in order to fill your parched, empty soul and slake your thirst for God. (Remember, however, that your dryness might be a gift from God and out of your control.)
In the convent our morning meditation together in the chapel began with the exhortation “Recall the presence of God.” This was wise advice. Before praying be conscious of the fact that you are coming before almighty God. He is there with you, gazing on you and loving you. Make the deliberate intention to pray. Some people find that taking a few deep breaths before praying settles them and helps them to focus on God. Visualization is a powerful tool. If you will be praying to Jesus or Mary, picture them standing or sitting before you.
Go to Scripture.
“Dust on the Bible, draught in the heart.” Scripture puts us in touch with God. We believe that Scripture is God’s Word. Hebrews 4:12 describes it as “living and active.” And Wilfrid Stinissen noted, “As a rocket fires off a spaceship into space, so the Word can propel us into God’s endlessness.” Through the Bible, God speaks to us personally. Several times when I was upset, I opened the Bible to a random page, hoping for comfort from God. He didn’t disappoint. One day through Isaiah 43:2, God told me that when I passed through water he would be with me and I would not drown and when I walked through fire I would not be burned. Scripture proved to be what St. Gregory called it—“a melody in the night.” Someone quipped, “A Bible that is falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t.”
Reach God through his creation.
Beholding the moon and stars at night made the composer of Psalm 8 aware of God’s majesty and burst forth in praise. A gorgeous nature scene that moves us deeply and causes joy to bubble up within us can lift our hearts to God. Research shows that just looking at a nature scene through a window or in a picture promotes healing and is good for the brain!
So walk through a park in autumn when fire-colored leaves crunch underfoot and fall all around you, and the air is crisp and bracing. Go for a ride in the country in the springtime, when flowers in myriad colors carpet the ground anew. Watch snow gently drift down or be mesmerized by the waves breaking on the shore. View a magnificent sunrise, sunset, or meteor shower. Visit a zoo! Creation is a reflection of God and an expression of his love.
Light a candle.
The calm, steady flame of a candle creates a peaceful ambience. Lighting a candle, especially a scented one, can gently make us aware of God enveloping us with his loving presence. The flame always points upward, even when the candle is tipped, reminding us to center on God.
The qualities of fire can send your thoughts Godward. Fire resembles God in its power, beauty, and mystery and in its ability to purify, strengthen, and warm. The sun, a ball of fire, is life giving, like God. Fire gives light, dispelling darkness, and light is one of the foremost images for our invisible God. Right after the Jewish Festival of Lights, Jesus called himself the light of the world, offering it the light of life.
As you light one or more candles, you might pray,
God of unapproachable light, break through my darkness.
Let the warmth of your love thaw my cold heart.
Purify me of all sin.
Enlighten my mind to know you and to see the path leading to you.
Enflame me with love for you and fill me with hope and courage. Amen.
~ Mary Kathleen Glavich, S.N.D.
Listen to music.
As a high school teacher, whenever I was blue, I listened to the opening of Richard Strauss’s “Sprach Zarathustra” as in 2001: Space Odyssey. This stirring music never failed to lift my spirits. Music has power to move our hearts. You might listen to your favorite classical pieces, popular songs like “Chariots of Fire,” or Christian songs that might inspire your heart to sing again. Sing along with such songs or sing solo. You might imitate one of our older Sisters. When she was alone in chapel, she sang popular love songs to Jesus!
Gazing at a religious picture or photos might elicit fervent prayer. One of my favorites is Salvador Dali’s “Christ of St. John of the Cross.” It depicts Jesus on the cross suspended over a sea and fishing boats. In the Holy Land, one morning I arose early enough to take a picture of sunrise over the Sea of Galilee. A beam of light from the sun appears to glide across the water directly to the person viewing the picture. (See the shot at the top of this website.) This image aids my prayer. Placing before you a picture of the person or intention you are praying for is also a way to keep your mind locked into your prayer.
Pray prayers that formerly touched your heart.
Prayers or devotions that you once loved to pray might jolt you into being aware again of God looking at you, listening to you, and speaking to you.
Draw on past blessings.
God told the Israelites to remember his saving deeds. Scan your memories to find times when God made his presence felt. For instance, one day as I gazed out of the window of a plane, I saw a miniature shadow of it riding over the clouds and encircled by a rainbow, what’s called a pilot’s halo. On another flight, when I wished to spot one again. I did—one with three rainbows around the plane! Surely you’ve experienced things that likely were attributed to God’s action— courtesies of God or “lovebursts” or God winking at you. Keep a record of them. Otherwise you might forget them or dismiss them, thinking, “Oh, I must have imagined or dreamed that.”
Change how you pray.
There is a whole smorgasbord of prayer forms: lectio divina (sacred reading), guided meditation, the rosary, hymns, the labyrinth, centering prayer, not to mention traditional prayers and prayers composed by people. If you are unfamiliar with these, consult a book on prayer, such as my The Catholic Way to Pray (Twenty-Third Publications). Let the principle “Pray as you can, not as you can’t” be your guide.
Change how you pray your usual prayers. For example, for the rosary substitute mysteries you create such as miracle mysteries or parable mysteries. Or for your meditation, use a devotional book.
Join a prayer group. The faith of others might bolster yours. Or pray before the Blessed Sacrament. Pray out loud or while kneeling, prostrating, walking, or dancing! Try praying at a different time or place.
Hopefully one of these tips will enable you to turn the page and begin the next chapter in the story of your spiritual adventure.
Which of these tips have you found useful in refreshing your prayer life?