What Should Prayer Look Like?

chittister-breath-of-soulBenedictine sister Joan Chittister has a new book coming out this summer on prayer. She’s really good a setting each person up for success in their spiritual life. Do a few things and do them well. Here’s an excerpt:

Prayer forms are a good thing to cultivate in the spiritual life. They give structure to our prayer life. A prayer form tells us how to sit when we pray. It tells us what to say and how to say it — or better yet, perhaps, what not to say and how not to sit.

Prayer forms are designed to calm us down when we’re too agitated to concentrate. They center us in the midst of the natural distractions and noise of life. In many cases, they even provide the content that a soul that is dry or weary or perturbed simply cannot always provide for itself. They fill the emptiness that sets in when prayer becomes just one more effort I have too little energy to make.

No doubt about it: prayer forms are part of the superstructure of a serious prayer life. But they are not everything. Prayer is about a great deal more than simply the way we pray or even the prayers we pray.

The “everything” of a deep and demanding prayer life is an awareness and acceptance of the self.

No rosary, no icon, no prayer corner can supply the raw material of prayer–which is the self-knowledge that cements the relationship between the self and God.

The temptation with which we must grapple, if we really want to learn to pray, is the temptation to pray as if we were more than we are. More pious, perhaps. More accepting of the will of God, maybe. More ethereal in our concerns. More otherworldly, more a citizen of the next world than a pilgrim in this one.  When all we bring to prayer is our holiness, what is the use of being there?

What am I not facing in myself that really needs my prayer if I am ever to grow in the art of prayer and the mandate to become fully human, if I am ever to become more than I am in the spiritual life?

To grow spiritually, then, I cannot hide even from myself. I must pray for self-knowledge, for the searing honesty that, with the grace of God, can bring me to the heart of God. — Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB

From The Breath of the Soul: Reflections on Prayer by Joan Chittister

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