In the presence of God

By

5 Jul 2022

The aim is to develop a personal prayer life to such an extent that whatever you are doing or wherever you are, you are praying.

Prayer is a practice widely understood in our world, however, it’s something that can be infinitely refined. It is universal and intimate, and uniquely personal. Everyone prays in their own way, yet when we think about prayer there is a stereotype. When we consider what prayer is we usually think of communal prayer in a church or sacred place, or an intentional and pious personal activity removed from the busyness of life.

I believe that prayer done well is every moment of your life. To make sense of this outrageous statement we must explore what prayer is and how it should be practised.

What is prayer?

Prayer is the dialogue between the individual and the transcendent. It is a conversation between two beings. Often, we consider prayer as a conversation with God and that is true. But we believe God can be found in all things and therefore our connection through creation can also enable a conversation with the Creator. We believe the Spirit dwells within us and in all people and thus we can pray to our Lord through a deep connection we share with others.
Prayer can also be simplified through the written word. There is an immeasurable number of beautiful and perfect prayers that have been written over time which we can access to articulate our desires and express our needs. Prayer is the process of connecting with our Lord directly and through the experiences and encounters of our daily lives.

Why pray?

We pray for many reasons. We pray in thanksgiving, intercession, lamentation, praise throughout our lives, or at different times, according to our needs. Often significant life events prompt us to pray and place our hope in God. Many people develop habitual prayer routines that give consistency and a framework for prayer. Whatever our practice of prayer, from time to time we need to pause and reflect on the reasons we pray. Thinking about why we personally pray helps us evaluate the sincerity of our prayer life.
For example, if you find that you pray predominantly because you ask a lot of God or because you are at church on Sunday, reflect on the sincerity of this prayer. Is your prayer helpful to you and does it help develop a deeper relationship with God? If not, you might make some changes so your prayer life becomes more meaningful.

Where do you pray?

Prayer is a practice that can happen anywhere, but usually we pray at certain locations. We pray at church with the community and in doing so intentionally enter into prayer. Many people pray in their home privately or with family. Occasionally we experience a transcendent moment in nature and we pray without forethought. Celtic spirituality offers a lovely term for these places – they are known as ‘thin places’. Places where the distance between God and the person is physically smaller than other places. A thin place can also be found at a specific place or across a journey such as a pilgrimage. Pilgrimages are a good way of entering a thin place as we intentionally remove ourselves from daily life and thus remove the barriers that separate us from the mystical.

Areas of attention

Once you review your prayer life you may find areas in need of attention. You are the person best placed to decide what adjustments are needed but a spiritual director or more experienced guide may offer you support in this area. I suggest that the best way to pray is just to do it.

To achieve the aim of ‘prayer as life’, we need to expand our understanding of prayer. Prayer is commonly viewed as a conversation with God. Start here, but don’t rely on the words of others. Do not pray as though you are a poet. Speak plainly to God, he is your friend and knows all that you desire. All that is needed in return is your sincere response. It’s OK if you are frustrated or even angry with God; say so, God is big enough to accept your frustration. Speak plainly to God as you would anyone else, being authentic is the way we show others we are genuine.
Develop this prayer by including periods of listening. Conversations do not work if only one person speaks. Listen to God in the silence. He will speak to you and guide your heart but you will only hear this response if you stop and listen.

Intention, patience and time

Developing a practice of ‘prayer as life’ requires intention, patience and time. We all start from a practice that is a supportive base from which to develop. ‘Prayer as life’ rather than a practice or habit will enable you to view the world through the eyes of God. It’s not impossible to live each moment in prayer but our busy daily lives seem to ensure that there are chunks of each day that are ordinary and devoid of a prayerful viewpoint.

Be intentional as you begin your journey to ‘prayer as life’. Make a conscious decision to begin the day in a prayerful manner and carry this through the day as much as you can. When you pray concentrate, when you are eating focus on the gratitude you can offer for the joy found in food, put aside your device and be present in that moment and thank God for it.

Be gentle with yourself. When you notice your intention of being prayerful has slipped, patiently guide your thoughts back to this aim. It takes time to develop a habit of offering prayer incessantly. Be calm as you work toward perpetual prayer, know that it may take a lifetime. Enjoy the journey rather than attaining the goal.

Prayer is personal and unique. As you reflect on these words know that no matter how often you pray or how you enter into prayer that you are loved and heard.

I pray that you might notice that you experience the world as God does more and more often, and that in these moments you encounter God personally. When you do, the need to pray is irrelevant as you are where you always hoped to be: in the presence of God.

This article first appeared in Madonna magazine Winter 2022 edition.

Brendan Nicholls is the liturgy coordinator at St Ignatius, Geelong.
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