On Prayer

There was once a young monk who asked an older monk sat by a stream “what is prayer?” The older monk grabbed the young monk at the collar on the back of his habit, behind the neck, and thrust his head into the running stream. Waiting until just before the young monk was about to drown, he released the monk and raised his head above the water for him to breath. “What was that for?” gasped the young monk as he gathered his breath, the old monk replied “that is prayer”.

It would be tempting to consider prayer as the desperation the young monk must have felt with his head under water. However prayer as St Paul asks “pray unceasingly” or as the wristbands (I once had one) goes P.U.S.H.- pray until something happens. Prayer can be seen throughout this story, the desperate plea under water, offering the situation, praying for a solution, praying in thanks for a resolution, praising God, praying for trust and guidance in a bigger purpose. Like the experience of being submerged, prayer is deep, intense, and surrounds us. As St Paul says: “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.”

How do we deepen our prayer, as intensely as the young monk?  Another story is about a young nun who was in St Theresa of Avila’s convent, who asked Theresa as the Abbess “Mother Superior, how should I pray?”. The answer was to spend an hour praying the Our Father. Why did Theresa request that? A friend of mine said that I pray quickly, (which doesn’t necessarily mean without meaning) but quickly can mean robotically. Spending deep time reflecting on 12 lines slowly over an hour allows deeper reflection, we add our own meaning, to understand the words, bringing our own offering. St Ignatius wrote in Principle and Foundations to his Spiritual Exercises “Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul” if prayer, praise, reverence and service is the purpose of our lives, we should take care with it to understand and meditate.

I once read that Pope Saint John XXIII, you would expect at the end of a long day would, in his private chapel, be deep in prayer as a world leader to pray for all the world’s problems. However, his nightly prayer was brief, offering a “Lord, it’s your Church, I’m off to bed”. Sometimes we must recognise our own limitations, say Jesus I trust in you, recognising he knows our prayer before we’ve thought or said it.

I was travelling from London to Leicester by train, and began to say the rosary. I fell asleep doing so, and in some feat, awoke still holding the exact bead where I paused. Given it’s said your guardian angel finishes the rosary for you if you fall sleep, I don’t know what it says about me! (I joke). It was well known that St Theresa of Liseux used to fall asleep during prayer. This doesn’t mean to say you should count sleep as your prayer, (although it would look very pious to say you’ve done 8 hours of prayer a day). As Psalm 150 says: “Praise God raise Him with timbrel and dancing; Praise Him with stringed instruments and pipe. Praise Him with loud cymbals; Praise Him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the LORD.” Pray as you can, in whatever situation you’re in, whether you’re nearly drowning in a lake, if you have an hour to meditate or you’re in Wembley SSE arena with your hand held up to praise + worship. There are indeed 10,000 ways to pray and praise in response to 10,000 reasons of the God who loves us.


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