My colleague, Revd. Ben Brady writes:
Have you said your prayers today?
What is prayer? … Is there a WRONG way to pray? … Why pray?
So what is prayer?
“It’s like sunbathing” according to Rowan Williams. 
He speaks of allowing ourselves to soak in the presence of God like sun rays. I like that, more importantly, I CAN do that. In Rowan’s description, prayer is opening ourselves to God’s presence, to allow ourselves feel and be shaped by God like a potter with clay. This image suggests a lovely relaxing experience and sometimes I do feel a deep sense of peace in prayer. However, often prayer also triggers different emotions, challenges and less comfortable feelings.
I find it is important to remember that prayer is an intentional act. We decide to be active participants and therefore can work through difficulties in prayer rather than simply passively accepting them.
A popular practice is called “The Examen”. This is when you think through your day, addressing what you are thankful for, sorry about and where you experienced a sense of the Divine; a holy moment. This approach to prayer allows the positives and negatives to coexist. We don’t have to ignore our anger or sadness in favour of gratitude. We can be with God in both our frustration and joy.
Over time, I’ve reflected on who I am and how my interests impact my prayer life. I’m always trying to be aware of how I’m feeling and how I can be in that same headspace with God in prayer. I’m a musician and so sometimes listen to music, but sometimes I simply sit in silence. I can be fidgeting, so I hold something (holding cross, prayer rope, rosary). Sometimes I close my eyes, sometimes I look at an Icon or look out the window. I have times when I use the daily offices set by the Church of England. Sometimes I use The Book of Common Prayer but at other times I can’t be bothered with “Thee’s, Thou’s and “Sundry places”. What I find matters most is that I’m willing to adapt my approach to prayer to ensure that I don’t just avoid spending time with God because ‘I’m just not in the mood’.
A little while ago, Rev. Liz Devall and I hosted sessions on different forms of prayer called “Pick & Mix Prayer”. This was an opportunity for people to gather and try out different or new forms of meeting with God. I really like this idea of having a “Pick & Mix Prayer” approach. A famous saying is that it takes longer to prepare to pray, than the actual praying. I believe there is wisdom in that.
St. Ignatius suggests standing just next to where you will be praying, say the Lord’s Prayer and then sitting down. This gives yourself time to enter into a prayerful space. A friend of mine said that he loves Morning and Evening Daily Office prayers, because once he has said the words, read the Psalms, the set readings and the Gospel Canticle, he feels more focused on who he is praying to.
I’ll be honest, despite my best intentions I sometimes slip into a superstitious way of thinking about prayer. I’ll hear myself think “well I didn’t pray properly today so it’ll probably be a crap day”. This is not true, we do not believe in a petty God who deliberately trips us up throughout the day due to missing/forgetting/not feeling it on a particular day. The Gospel has a very different description of prayer. I love the verse from Matthew 10:27:
“What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.”
God may whisper life changing news to us in the smallest of quiet prayerful moments. We might sunbathe in prayer and feel replenished, altered and enlivened. We may just receive enough strength to face the next day.
- For a parallel but different reflection, see what Revd. Giles Fraser has to say picking up Rown Williams theme: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2012/jul/27/religious-sunbathing-giving-up-control, accessed on 20th June 2020.