Ways to Pray

First: Open Yourself to God

As you begin your time of prayer, turn off your phone, the television and any other distractions that may keep you from fully entering this time of prayer. Take several deep breaths to quiet your mind and heart, and spend some moments in quiet awareness in the presence of Jesus. Invite the Holy Spirit to guide you as you reflect on God’s Word.

Posture during Prayer

We all know how powerful body language can be. When we are in the presence of another person his/her body language can communicate a great deal to us. The same is true in our prayer lives. Sitting with feet on ground and hands open, wrapping oneself in a prayer shawl, curling into a comfortable corner, kneeling, standing grounded, walking, lifting one’s hands in prayer. Take time to pay attention to how your posture influences your prayer and find a posture that best suits your prayer for a particular moment.

Each of the tabs below focuses on a different way to pray.

Lectio Divina

Beliefnet.com describes Lectio Divina as “a slow, contemplative praying of the Scriptures. Very often our concerns, our relationships, our hopes and our aspirations naturally intertwine with our meditations on the Scriptures. We can attend ‘with the ear of our hearts’ to our own memories, listening for God’s presence in the events of our lives … Our own personal story becomes salvation history.”

Lectio Divina is comprised of four steps:

  1. Lectio – a slow reflective reading of a scripture passage
  2. Meditatio – meditation on the Word
  3. Contemplatio – contemplation – just being in God’s presence, and
  4. Oratio – prayer – one’s personal response to God.

The following steps are one way to approach Lectio Divina:

  1. Read the scripture passage slowly, notice what one word attracts your attention and sit quietly with that for a bit.
  2. Read the scripture passage slowly again and notice what phrase speaks to you. It may or may not be connected to the initial word that you noticed. Again, sit quietly with this for a brief time.
  3. Read the scripture passage slowly for a third time and spend time in contemplation. Listen for what God is saying to you in this passage.
  4. Read the scripture passage slowly one last time and consider your personal response to God in light of this time of prayer.

Click here for more information about Lectio Divina.

Mandalas

Don’t ignore this possibility for prayer! Many of us easily overlook the richness of this form of prayer because we are very clear that we are not artists and in fact believe we do not have a modicum of artistic ability in us! But art as a form of prayer is about process, not about the product. Often, when freed from our fears about what something should look like, prayer and meaning can emerge.

Mandala means “circle” in Sanskrit, and using mandalas as part of prayer can be a way of making a sacred space. Circles symbolize wholeness, inclusion, embrace, universe, eternity. Used in many religious traditions, mandalas in Christianity can be seen in our stained glass rose windows and the labyrinths in medieval cathedrals in Europe. Hildegard of Bingen used them to record visions she received and to express spiritual insights.

Mandalas can be simple …

or more complex … as the spirit moves

Generally, creating a mandala begins by making a circle. While there may be times when a clear image of what you want to express wells up from within, more often the picture emerges in the process. Take time to choose the colors that attract you in the moment. Allow your hands to make designs whose form and purpose may not be clear at first. Consider using your non-dominant hand to free yourself from fears related to being a “good-enough” artist. Chalk or watercolor with a sponge or fingers work well for this. Mandalas can be as simple or complicated as the spirit moves.

Let yourself fill the space freely, or consider the process offered by Sister Carolyn Sur, SSND, who provided our Advent reflections:

  1. Draw a circle with a compass or run a pencil around a circular plate. View the circle as a clock with the number 12 at the top and the numbers 4 and 8 in the standard places.
  1. Divide the circle into three parts by connecting the number 12 to 4 and the number 12 to 8. We will use the divisions three different ways.

a) In the first third, sketch a symbol or an image from the readings that makes a word or phrase visible to you. It need only serve as a discussion tool or reminder to you to verbalize your ponderings or meditation/prayer with your spiritual companion; it need not be a work of art, as God is always pleased with our efforts and intentions.

b) Choose a color that represents a feeling you associate with this primary image, and fill in the second third with this color with free, repetitive strokes or swirls that express the feeling.

c) In the third section, enhance the symbol to situate the time and space where that symbol took on importance in your spiritual journey and what it might evolve to mean in the future.

Click here for reflections on using mandalas in prayer.

Ignatian Imaginative Prayer

This style of prayer involves imagining oneself as one of the characters in the scripture passage with which you are praying. According to Father Kevin O’Brien, SJ, “Ignatius was convinced that God can speak to us as surely through our imagination as through our thoughts and memories.” This method of prayer involves placing ourselves fully within a story, most often from the Gospels. We begin by imagining the sights, smells, sounds and movement, the details that would be part of the scene. As we imagine, we will be drawn to a particular character in the story and invited to “become” that character in our prayer. We become “onlooker-participants,” giving full rein to our imagination. “He (Ignatius) doesn’t want us to think about Jesus,” Father Fleming says. “He wants us to experience him. He wants Jesus to fill our senses. He wants us to meet him.”

The Ignatian Spirituality website offers more information about Ignatian Spirituality from Father David L. Fleming, SJ, and about imaginative prayer from Father Kevin O’Brien, SJ.

Ignation Examen – Examination of Consciousness at the end of the day

  1. Place yourself in God’s presence. Give thanks for God’s great love for you.
  2. Pray for the grace to understand how God is acting in your life.
  3. Review your day – recall specific moments and your feelings at the time.
  4. Reflect on what you did, said or thought in those instances. Were you drawing closer to God, or further away? Give thanks for that which drew you closer and ask for forgiveness in areas in which you fell short.
  5. Look toward tomorrow – think of how you might collaborate more effectively with God’s plan. Be specific. Conclude with a prayer.

There are several variations on this form of prayer. A more detailed explanation can be found on the Ignatian Spirituality website.

Download and print a pdf copy of Ways to Pray

– Prayer Resources compiled by Sister Stephanie Spandl, SSND