Sitting in my brother’s kitchen a while back, he asked me “is there a right way to pray?” Before I could answer, he said, “no there isn’t.” “It’s all good,” as a friend of my wife’s would say. CCD theology at its best.
I am glad my brother gave me no time to answer. I did not have one anyway. Or, at least, I did not have one that felt right. Everyone in the room knew this was going to be a future topic in the Catholic Journal for me. Yet, perhaps because this occurred as Bowl season in college football was approaching, this discernment took a while for me to chew on. The Holy Spirit may speak but Greg gets distracted and is not always listening as he should…
In OCIA, the renamed acronym version of RCIA and, perhaps another future treatise in the Catholic Journal, I often relate prayer to a conversation between spouses. I ask, “if only one spouse is talking, is there really a relationship?” Knowing I will get the customary “no” in response, I then proceed to ask, “then how do we have a relationship with God if we do not talk with him?” Prayer is our conversation with God. Too often, prayer is a time where we do the talking. In prayer, as in relationships, often it is more important that we just simply listen.
In prayer, it is often said that anything we have to say to God “is prayer.” This line of thinking often follows up with saying something in regard to “when you are mad, yell at God. He can take it.”
Take it He does. We are blessed to have a God who lets us be indignant, neglectful, and prideful in response to His sharing creation with us.
Our response – sin. His response – love.
Our response – pride. His response – love.
No matter our response, God responds with a love beyond our capability. We only get a glimpse of this vastness of love when, as parents, we see our child for the first time. I’d say the “most recent time” as well but, by then they have become too much like us.
So yes, there are all types of prayer. CCD taught us that there is prayer of worship, thanksgiving, faith, and intercession. There is liturgical prayer, corporate prayer, prayers of consecration and of the Holy Spirit. There is rote, spontaneous and contemplative prayer. It is “all good” when directed to God. It is all a reaching out in relationship to God. Yet, how often do we recite the words in humility? How often is our gratitude genuine? How often do we fool ourselves into thinking that our true agenda is hidden or that God will barter with us?
How often do we speak to God as if we are at the center of this universe, and not Him?
I once heard Fr. Mike Schmitz wisely say that our parents (and our CCD, our religious ed) taught us how to “say” our prayers but that most of us have not learned how to pray. Hearing this, I recalled all the times I sped through the rosary or the Breviary. Personally, I believe my time in the “Our Father” at full speed could be competitive enough to break the Olympic record. It is rather easy to say the words when not being weighed down by intention.
When my second daughter was getting married, for some reason unbeknownst to me, my wife thought it was time that I learned another dance move than just slowly turning in circles. I guess she never realized that to a chemist, just holding a pretty girl was dancing among the stars. We went to a local studio, and I learned more effective ways to trip her up and bruise her feet. I was amazed that our instructor could teach us either as the dance lead or in doing the dance backwards to teach me what the response to my lead should feel like. I was impressed that the instructor was better at dancing backwards than I was dancing as the lead. In essence, the instructor dancing backwards was still the lead. In prayer, do I let God lead or am I forcing him to lead dancing backwards too?
Most of us go about our day thinking we run our individual space in the universe. What I want, what I believe, my truth, my body… Yet, this is only a deferred control given to us in love by God. We are simply stewards of His creation. Once again, the Prophet Tommy Shaw of Styx reminds me that I am “fooling yourself if you don’t believe it.” In prayer, I must let go playing God. Until I do, I remain an “Angry Young Man.”
So, in response to the question of whether there is a right way to pray, there is an answer. Surrender!
Unless we are surrendering in prayer, we are not transferring the universe back to God’s control. Without surrender, I am essentially praying to myself. In the dance of life, I am not the lead. God is. All that I am, God lets me be in freedom. Yet, being in control is only my illusion. I cannot mentally stop my heart from beating. I can only harden it into loving falsely.
Prayer = Surrender.
In today’s vernacular, “surrender” is giving up. We “surrender” when we have lost the battle. In prayer, “surrender” is not a loss but a gain. Surrender in prayer is letting go and embracing the freedom of love that God gives us in His universe. The words do not matter. That is why all our prayer is “good.” The underlying intention is everything.
Let us surrender our will to total freedom in God. Let us release the shackles binding us to the burdens that we impose on ourselves growing up and living in a fallen world. Surrender, and embrace God’s love.
Ok, Lord. I return the universe to you. Help me to understand… Help me to accept… Help me to follow your will… Help me to embrace and see the path that you intend for me. I can carry this cross knowing that you are with me. Open me to your will that I may follow it, in love.