Father Jim’s Seven Ways to Pray
I’ve been doing a lot of reading in Father James Martin’s great book, The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything. He devotes a chapter to different forms of prayer, beginning with different meditations and ways that one can seek God in the most traditional, simple ways. He then turns to more elaborate on forms of prayer that are more effective for different kinds of people. I’m a firm believer that God talks to people in ways that they’ll most likely hear or respond to. For me, God speaks to me most poignantly through music. Other forms are great and I try to mix up my prayer life often, but I always come back to music as the form that really stirs my heart. Below are other types of prayer that I’d encourage you to pursue!
Communal Prayer: Here, Father Jim refers to the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the Daily Office, and communal recitations of the rosary. This kind of prayer is great because it tends to be structured. I tend to be much more likely to do something if there is a time and place on my calendar for me to show up and carry out the activity. Furthermore, it strengthens fellowship (which I think generally makes us happier) between the members of the group.
Rote Prayer: Prayers like the Our Father or Hail Mary have a way of lulling our souls into a conversation with God. Most of us have been saying these prayers since we were little and we can say them without too much thought. When I’m waiting in line some place or stopped at a red light, I like to say one of these prayers and think of whatever friend or family member pops into my head first. Offering up a simple prayer for someone seems like such a small, yet generous, way to spend 30 seconds!
Journaling: This is a great way to do really focused prayer and hone in on things you may need to work on by writing about your prayer or spiritual life. Father Jim includes a quote from Dorothy Day on journaling, “It is always so good to write our problems down so that in reading them over 6 months or a year later one can see them evaporate” (pg 170). Father Jim likens journaling to writing a letter to God, writing down an imagined conversation between you and God, or writing an answer to a question, like, “What do you want me to do for you?”
Nature Prayer: Father Jim notes, “The Old Testament stresses that God can be understood through his visible works — that is, the natural world” (pg. 163). Therefore, it shouldn’t be too difficult to go outside, take a few deep breaths of fresh air and acknowledge a Creator, so benevolent as to bless us with nature. I’ve found this to be a very settling form of prayer, one that calms my heart and helps keep things in perspective. I’ve found it especially helps when I go some place outside that’s not normally part of my daily routine.
Music: Like I said, music really helps to get me excited about my faith, but also to help me focus on a particular aspect of my spiritual life that needs attention. A four or five part harmony can bring tears to my eyes, making me think of the ways God harmonizes His love for us in the small nuances of our lives. There are lots of psalms that are put to Gregorian Chant and, according to Father Z’s blog, music can even be a form of communal prayer!
Work: This kind of prayer can be a sort of contemplative “lifting up” of your actions to God. While ironing a shirt or doing something else monotonous, it’s great to offer up that task for the souls in purgatory, for instance. I think something like working at a crisis pregnancy center or at a soup kitchen would be an excellent form of work prayer or of communal prayer because your service is something good you can offer directly to God.
Father Jim wraps up the chapter, “God communicates with us in many ways. But prayer is a special time when God’s voice is often heard most clearly because we are giving God our undivided attention…So, when you pray, however you pray, and feel that God is speaking to you — pay attention” (pg. 173)