Father Mark, Sermons

How to Pray

Pentecost 3; June 14, 2020            

I’ve been asked in our parish survey to reflect about “How to Pray.”  One sermon will only allow me to present an “appetizer” about prayer.

The purpose of prayer is to realize and experience our Sacred Unity in being One with God.  There is no distance between God and us.  Prayer in its various forms helps us to realize our Sacred Unity.  To think that God is far away is actually an illusion as we are the ones who for whatever reason have created the feelings of distance.

The Psalms are full of examples of prayer, both liturgically formed and organized to be said by the community and personal expressions of the heart and mind.  

Corporate prayer found in resources such as our prayer book, help us to pray by shaping the mind and heart to pray in line with God’s nature and will.   Else prayer could be attached to self-will run riot, such as in the words of the song, “O Lord, why don’t you buy me a color TV, or a Mercedes Benz and so on, imagining God to be a celestial bell hop who waits on our every whim. 

The psalms also offer examples of the spontaneous sharing of ones thoughts and feelings with God, emptying ourselves to God and then after fully emptied, listening in wait to receive the Presence of God in whatever form it may come.  

Another brief prayer I often use when suddenly faced with an unexpected situation or when feeling overwhelmed, is simply saying “Help!” “Help!” can be the most heartfelt and genuine prayer we can make. 

I like the Road to Emmaus story when Cleopas and his friend are simply emptying their minds and hearts to Jesus spontaneously as they walked with him.  It was only following their conversation when they sat in silence with Jesus as he broke bread with them, did they realize who he was and receive his presence.   Sometimes we need to talk or write out our internal state of affairs as a preface to pray while the silence that follows is really where prayer and the bonding as One begins. 

Jesus also gave us the Lord’s Prayer.   The Lord’s Prayer is both a prayer in itself but also reveals the dynamics of prayer—its substance and its movement.  The Lord’s Prayer reveals the Mystical Union into which we are invited into our all-embracing God for there is nowhere that God is not.  

Mystical Union, impossible to define, as the outcome of prayer was described by St. Hildegard nine centuries ago as breathing in and breathing out the one breath of the universe.  Our minds, unable to comprehend both what prayer is and who God is, must drop into the heart to meet God who lives within us.

The drawback to the Lord’s Prayer is that we have memorized it.  This might sound confusing.  Having memorized it, we too easily slip into automatic pilot, tending to increase our pace as we go along, and losing the depth and heart contact of each phrase with the Spirit who lives under the words.  

This is why I suggest, when praying the Lord’s Prayer, of saying each phrase, then pausing for an inbreath and outbreath before inhaling again and voicing the next phrase on the outbreath.  Give yourselves a chance to sink into the prayer and God to sink more deeply into us.   I will address the Lord’s Prayer in its dynamic Aramaic roots and way of praying it another time. 

Another prayer, taught beautifully in a brief text by our beloved late Bishop, Bob Hibbs, An Altar in Your Heart, leads us in the Jesus Prayer:  Lord Jesus, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner, based in the story of the Publican and the repentant tax collector in Luke 18.  Our generation struggles with this word, “sinner,” due to a misunderstanding the word as a way of shaming us and harming our self-esteem.  Unfortunately the word, “sinner,” is misunderstood.  God isn’t shaming us.  We do this to ourselves and others. Sin is simply the fact that we’re disconnected from God, we’re in a mess and that we need help to become centered again in our Sacred Unity.

Contemplative Prayer is a prayer of allowing ourselves to merge with God’s presence after allowing the distractions in our mind and heart to be released. As we descend into the Presence of God we slowly are carried into his transcendent Being, thereby transcending the limitations of the mind and its conflicts because we find our true home in the heart of God. 

In the Heart of God we begin to hear or feel the Spirit’s movement in us.  Like Jesus says when he’s giving his mission orders to the disciples, “Do not worry what you are to say for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”  Contemplative prayer is learning to listen until God speaks through us. 

For a brief description, we begin by choosing a sacred word from scripture that resonates with you.  The sacred word, (I often use the Aramaic, schlama, for peace, you could use “peace” as a sacred word) is to be repeated on the outbreath after you have found a quiet space and a place to sit with a posture that is comfortable but not so relaxed that you cannot focus. 

It may help you to relax by scanning your body for tense places and then, tensing and releasing any areas which might be tight.  Closing one’s eyes or leaving them relaxed so that they rest open, without visual distractions with your focus on a spot between your eyebrows. 

As you continue to breathe in and exhale the sacred word, you might find unexpected visitors in the form of random thoughts.  Some people keep a pad and pen next to them so they can put the thought on paper to deal with later, others are able to refocus on the sacred word. 

Cynthia Borgeault’s directive (The Heart of Centering Prayer) on dealing with random thoughts disturbing our silence can be summed up in what she calls The Four R’s:  Resist no thought.  Retain no thought.  React to no thought.  Return focus to the sacred word.  Whatever we resist we become attached to, blocking our ability to be still. 

After a while you might discover yourself in moments of silence where you have forgotten to say your sacred word.   This is normal as the sacred word is only to be used as a tool to take you into the silence of God.   When in the silence of God you won’t need it.

Prayer manifests itself in many ways to discover our sacred unity with our Creator.  Prayer is a practice of allowing God to find his home more deeply in us.  

I am always available for coaching on developing a prayer life. 

Blessings as you practice our most important purpose of falling into the hands of a Loving God. (Hebrews 10)

Amen