At first glance St. Paul’s exhortation to pray always (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18) seems to be a mistranslation. Maybe what he really said was, “Pray a lot.” Praying ALWAYS is a mental impossibility. When I’m writing a book, for instance, my mind is 100% focused on the ideas I’m typing, not on God. The only way I can think of to pray always is to make all our daily activities a kind of prayer-in-action by consecrating our day to God by praying the Morning Offering.
We can, however, weave thoughts and words to God throughout the day in various ways. In addition to the customary morning, meal, and evening prayers, we can send “arrow prayers” to God at odd moments. We can pray while engaged in things that don’t require much thought like washing dishes, driving with cruise control, or weeding the garden. We can also adopt little tricks that trigger our mind to think of God. One woman has trained herself to think of God whenever she opens a door. I like to say a pray whenever I plug in an electrical cord (mainly for safety’s sake!) Fr. Edward Hays recommended praying whenever you buckle on a seat belt: “Wrap me in your love, buckle me in your blessedness.” While waiting in a line or waiting for something to download, we could pray a mantra—a short prayer like “Jesus” or “God, I love you” repeated over and over. A gorgeous gift of nature —a sunset that is a riot of color, a peach-colored rose in full bloom, ice-decorated tree branches—might prompt us to praise the Creator. There’s truth in the witticism “A day woven through with prayer is less likely to unravel!”
Right now I’m writing a book on how to teach prayer. In it I advise teachers to inform their students of the many different ways Catholics pray. Then when the students grow out of one way of praying, they are equipped to experiment with other forms of prayer. Besides the traditional vocal prayers there are several ways to meditate, such as putting yourself into a Gospel story, reliving an event in your life as though Jesus were with you, and pondering each phrase of the Our Father. For centuries Christians have prayed the Liturgy of the Hours (Divine Office) through which the whole day is sanctified. Then there are forms of prayer that have recently become popular: lectio divina (sacred reading in four steps), centering prayer, and the labyrinth. We also have litanies, novenas, octaves, and triduums. Hymns are sung prayers. (By the way, two of my friends met through praying the Divine Office. They are now married!)
In addition to the traditional devotions, the Rosary and the Way of the Cross, we now can pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Of course, the simplest and most personal prayer is that which arises spontaneously from our hearts. My most frequent prayer is probably “Help!” And the paramount prayer, of course, is the Eucharist.
If you are unfamiliar with any of these prayers, you might explore them on the Internet or check out my book “The Catholic Way to Pray” (Twenty-Third Publications). Or you could wait until my next book on prayer is published!
What is your favorite way of praying? Which form are you interested in exploring and trying out?