I posted this back in February 2010. I'm reposting it again because I have some new readers of the blog and I thought it would be helpful to them if I did so.
Sometimes I'm asked what method I use during my contemplative prayers – which I think are better defined as meditative than contemplative. Truth is, I don’t have so much a method as I have a relationship. The distinction is not simply semantics. Relationships are built over time. Methods can be developed or copied in a few minutes.
So if asked how I mature in my relationship to Christ – which then translates for me into the process I use in prayer – I would answer this way:
1. My relationship with Christ began in 1972. I can tell you the day and the place where it happened. I recognized I was a sinner and needed divine forgiveness. Having been raised in a Jewish home and knowing nearly nothing about Christianity except that Jesus died for me, I did the only thing I knew I could do. I asked God to forgive my sins and cleanse me through the blood of His Son.
That was it. Just me and God. And in my ignorance of so many things religious, God accepted me where I was. And that's how it started for me.
2. Since becoming a Catholic Christian more than 30 years later, I grow in my relationship with Jesus by always bringing my serious sins into the Confessional. But it is rare for me to go through a day without praying directly to God something like the Act of Contrition for each transgression I commit, regardless of how venial it might seem to me. I try to keep my slate as clean as possible. As the psalmist said, If I hold onto sin in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.
3. Since becoming Catholic. I always receive the Eucharist with purposeful aforethought. When Moses stood before the burning bush, God told him to remove his sandals because the ground on which he was standing was holy. And so each time I approach the consecrated Bread and the Cup, I remind myself the ground on which I stand is no less holy. Doing so helps me receive Christ with a more sober and reflective attitude.
4. I spend an hour each morning with the Lord. I rarely miss a day through the year. To help myself settle into the attitude for prayer and meditation, I listen to one or two recorded Christian hymns or other worship songs. Then during that hour I read at least two chapters of the Bible. (I also read two every evening). Over the course of the last thirty-seven years I’ve read the Bible dozens of times. In addition, Scripture memory has always been an integral part of my relationship with Christ. I have memorized hundreds of verses, and can paraphrase hundreds more. This treasury of God’s word in my heart aids my meditation as the Holy Spirit brings those texts to mind to teach me something fresh or (more often) remind me of something I’d forgotten.
5. My reflections, meditations and prayers during the remainder of the hour are really birthed in my daily decisions to bring my will into conformity with Christ’s. One of the books that has helped me understand the importance of obedience is The Practice of the Presence of God, by Brother Lawrence.
Brother Lawrence wrote that he would not so much as pick up a feather from the ground without permission from the Lord. It is that kind of obedience to Christ, even in the minutia of daily activities, that I try to strive toward. However, I am learning such obedience does not happen in a vacuum. It requires many decisions during the day to either obey Him or rationalize why I do not have to obey. But each correct decision makes the next one easier.
Two of my favored prayer methods is Lectio Divina and St. Ignatian “imaginative” meditation.
Lectio divina is an ancient form of prayer often associated with the monastic tradition. As I read from the Bible I ask myself what the writer was trying to convey to his readers. Then I ask what the Holy Spirit might be trying to convey to me in the passage. As I ponder the questions, I mull those thoughts over and over. Sometimes I will begin memorizing a particular verse in the text and speak it back to God as a form of prayer.
Ignatian prayer uses the power of imagination to draw me closer to God. As I read through the Scripture, or consider one of the mysteries of the Rosary, I meditate on a scene that might catch my attention – the scourging of Christ at the pillar, for example. I try to imagine what it would have been like if I had been there, watching the horrible scene play out. I try to smell the dust swirling in the breezes, to hear the mob’s shouts behind me, to watch our Blessed Mother crumble with grief to the dirt as the soldier’s whip slices Jesus’ back. And as I imagine myself in the moment, I pray whatever thoughts come to my mind as I watch the scene unfold.
At other times I pray my own spontaneous prayers, or recite some of the many prayers given us by the Church. St. Ignatius of Loyola’s prayer is one example:
Oh Lord, take my freedom, my memory, my understanding and my will. All that I am and all that I possess You have given me: I surrender it all to You to be disposed of according to Your will. Give me only Your love and Your grace; with these I will be rich enough, and will desire nothing more.
The prayer of Pope Clement XI is another (I include only a portion of his prayer here):
Lord, I believe in you: increase my faith. I trust in you: strengthen my trust. I love you: let me love you more and more. I am sorry for my sins: deepen my sorrow. I want to do what you ask of me: In the way you ask, For as long as you ask, Because you ask it. Help me to prepare for death with a proper fear of judgment, but a greater trust in your goodness. Lead me safely through death to the endless joy of heaven. Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen
One of my favorite prayers is the Humility Litany of Cardinal Merry Del Val. (I include only a portion of it here):
O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, hear me.
From the desire of being loved,
From the desire of being honored,
From the desire of being praised,
From the desire of being preferred to others,
Deliver me, O Jesus.
From the fear of being humiliated,
From the fear of being despised,
From the fear of being forgotten,
From the fear of being ridiculed,
Deliver me, O Jesus
That others may be loved more than I,
That others may be esteemed more than I,
That others may be praised and I unnoticed, That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should
O Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
My prayer-life, deeply rooted in a long-term growing relationship with Jesus, is no different than the prayer lives of any other Christian during the past two thousand years who has had a passion to know Christ – not just know about Him. I hope something of what I have written here will stir you to seek more of our Lord and Savior.
It’s not about a method. It’s about a relationship.
And it's about starting sooner than later.