Sunday, March 18, 2012

What are we doing when we pray?

I've promised to pray for people countless times.

I pray my way through our church directory, and the newspaper.

I pray (some) of the daily offices. The church prays all the daily offices even when I don't.

My avatar in Second Life prays and I pray too.

Church prays. I write some of those prayers. I love more of the prayers I don't write (Thank you St. Francis. Thank for "Collects.").

I/we pray before meals.

Christ prays the psalms. I join him.

I pray memorized prayers and extemporaneous prayers.

There are prayers prayed alone, and prayers prayed together.
Christ prays to the Father and in the Spirit we participate in these prayers.

I believe that my prayers are joined to the prayers of others.
I write prayers, and read prayers, and consider many other actions prayer, including, but not limited to:


I intend to pray more than I actually pray. Or perhaps I should say I count less things as prayer than I should. Or perhaps I should say sometimes I'm afraid of God.

I trust that when I don't have the right words for prayer, the Spirit groans for me.

I have tried to empty my mind for prayer, but not having that spiritual gift more native to other cultural contexts, I pray instead by filling my mind.

Some prayers I say over and over and over and over and over, like:

Our Father, who art in heaven...
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Thank you
I'm sorry
You're welcome

And when all is said and done,
    I still have no idea what we are doing when we pray,
         other than I know it is a good idea, and in some ways I have yet to fathom,

everything is prayer,
 and prayer is everything.


  1. Kathy S.2:20 PM

    I have read this several times, and I think it is a beautiful post. Really. :-) However... since I am 100% Opus Dei through and through, I feel the need to criticize it. ;-)

    You said "My avatar in Second Life prays and I pray too." Now, I don't exactly understand this. It is above my pay grade, but I'll take a chance. Padre Josemaria said, about riding the trains of his time (the technology of the day): I will that every clickity-clack-turn of the train wheel is a prayer of Thanksgiving.

    You say: "I have tried to empty my mind for prayer, but not having that spiritual gift more native to other cultural contexts, I pray instead by filling my mind." This was Merton's problem (i.e. emptying his mind). Josemaria says: The Catholic never has a "Moment of Silence" -- he is always speaking with God.

    You say: "I still have no idea what we are doing when we pray...." Jesus does not want us to be in the dark. He gave us the fullness of Truth. It is in the Church. You are a leader. Just look.

  2. While at Warburg Seminary, a professor working within the Lutheran/Catholic dialogue asked us this very same question as he considered an article dealing with the topic of The One Mediator, Mary and the Saints. In response to his inquiry, I received permission to put the question out to the entire email list of my Synod and received some incredible responses. People have such varied experiences with prayer, all deeply personal and sacred, yet most come around to some version of your last two stanzas.

  3. Nice response, kathy, and what an awesome survey, Tim.

    Perhaps I could say that because I am a leader, and because I look, that is precisely why I confess my inability to fully express what it is we are doing when we pray. In the same way that an aspect of speaking of God is kataphatic (we cannot speak of God) so too we can say the same thing of prayer.

  4. I do understand what you are saying, but with the word "kataphatic," it seems to me you are going into the area of mystical prayer. All I am trying to say is that we already have a tremendous amount of teaching and information on prayer left to us by the Saints (and others) over the period of 2000 years... for example, the writings of Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross.

    I am somewhat concerned, because instead of turning to what we already have, I see some people going in the direction of The Emerging Church -- looking for something "new." In my view, as best as I can understand it, Emerging Church theology is just re-heated Gnosticism. (But, what do I know?)

    I do have a question on prayer... I have searched, but I have not found the answer. In the Lord's Prayer, or the Our Father, Jesus says (English tr.): "Lead us not into temptation." Theologically, I believe, God "leads" no one into temptation.

    In Spanish, the phrase is: "No nos deje caer en tentacion" -- Don't let us fall into temptation.

    The English translation follows the Greek. But... Jesus, as far as we know, never spoke a word in Greek.

    Could it be that Jesus actually said, in Aramaic: "Don't let us fall into temptation"?

    If this is so, then it gives us a whole new approach to the Word of God. The Word transcends the Written Word.

    What do you think?

  5. Well... hahaha... I just did what I have been telling everyone else to do -- I checked the Catechism! (I had just been using a Greek dictionary.) The CCC #2846 says the Greek verb is "difficult to translate," but then gives 2 renderings like the Spanish version. I still don't have an answer to the question of why we have the English translation that we do.