Living in a fast-paced city like London, it is easy to feel that prayer is yet another thing we have to 'do' in our already busy lives. Yet prayer can provide balance and perspective, and can nourish our relationship with God. So, how might we develop an urban prayerful spirituality that can sustain us on our journey through life?
Prayer is about opening ourselves to the Spirit of God. Prayer can be wordless, silent. It does not always have to mean 'saying our prayers'.
It is true that in the Church of England prayer has traditionally been based on repeating set words, often taken from scripture, or from church-based prayers like those in the Book of Common Prayer. This tradition has relied for its survival on thorough teaching and assimilation during the early years of life. In earlier generations learning prayers off by heart was a normal part of the curriculum.
Today, however, many of us have not had this sort of upbringing and so learning how to pray has to be done differently and with less emphasis on words. Monks, nuns and others who spend many years in prayer think this may be a good thing as silence can be a great help to prayer - especially in our contemporary world where finding time to be quiet and creating space can be hard.
Prayer does not have to rely entirely on human effort; even better is to let down the barriers so that the Holy Spirit can pray through us. This is helped by:
A simple way of meditating is to stay with a word or passage of scripture as if slowly sucking a boiled sweet until, like the sweet, it breaks up and is absorbed.
There are times when prayer gets stuck or is difficult. During times like these sticking to a routine of prayer becomes even more important. Knowing this can, however, make prayer feel even more difficult. At times like these it may help simply to set aside a set period of time (with a timer to avoid clock watching), begin with the Lord's Prayer and end with a blessing - and then just leave it up to God to look after the time in the middle.
When asked by his disciples how to pray, Jesus taught them this:
Who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil
For thine is the kingdom,
The power and the glory,
For ever and ever. Amen.
and a blessing:
The Lord bless us and keep us;
May his face shine upon us
And grant us his peace this day and evermore. Amen
Intercession is the name given to prayers asking for God's help for others. They are the best known kind of said prayers. Intercessory prayer of the kind 'Lord please help' is often the first to be used at times of great distress.
An important thing to remember is that prayer is not about changing the mind of God but about changing ourselves Ð so that we become more attentive, not only to the mystery of God but to the mystery of our humanity.
Services of worship almost always have time set aside for prayers of intercession. These usually follow the pattern of praying for the church, the world, the local community, the sick and for those who have died.
Prayer is not a kind of Aladdin's lamp where God is a genie beholden to obey our every bidding. Prayers are often answered but not necessarily in the way expected. Sometimes it feels impossible to discern any kind of answer.
Everyone, however experienced at prayer, goes through times that are dry and full of self doubt, making it all too easy to become disillusioned and to wonder whether praying actually helps. And even when prayer does seem to work - is it prayer or just coincidence? Well, as more than one wise spiritual guide has said - with prayer the coincidences increase.
There are plenty of web sites with suggestions for prayer and daily passages or reflections. These include:
web site of the Jesuits in Eire. It has been created specifically for those wishing to pray online.
web site of the World Community for Christian Meditation. It offers guidance on meditation techniques.
Daily Prayer provided by the official Church of England web site
© The Archbishops' Council of the Church of England, 2002-2004