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Words for prayer

By - Apr 8, 2014 - Category Practice - Print Print - Version française

bottle on the sand

I am convinced that prayer constitutes a fundamental experience and an essential reality. I have, however, always had some difficulty with it. My acquaintance with the writings of a large number of “explorers” of the spiritual world (from various origins and religions) have convinced me a long time ago of the importance of this slightly disconcerting act. Those readings used to always trigger the same emotion in me. I would sense that prayer meant breathing the perfumes of the “homeland” (as Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus could have put it) or communicating with the World of the Truth (to use a different vocabulary). In practice, however, my prayer would not even come close to the emotions inspired by these beautiful texts.

I had learned some prayers and picked a couple that I would try to recite on a regular basis and with as much attention as possible. Once in a while, I would also experience those fleeting impulses towards the One who is usually referred to as God, or towards those who knew how to speak of Him. But I knew these were all just babblings, attempts that did not reach their goal. I aspired to more.

The prayer-impulse was too random, too short-lived—I couldn’t rely on it. As for the prayers I had chosen to recite, they most often left me in a state that combined frustration and impatience. I wouldn’t question their value, but I wouldn’t delve into their meaning either. I would often lose track of what I was saying, I wouldn’t hear the words I was using, and my prayer would quickly turn into a mechanical exercise.

One day, on the basis of one of the prayers I knew, I started adding my own words, to go deeper into, and clarify, the meaning of the words of that prayer. I instantly started feeling concerned, I was listening… For a while, I tried, every day, to find the correct words, words that fit for me. Once in a while, I would struggle with one word for several days, either because it was external to me and thus wasn’t “sincere” enough, or because it wasn’t clear enough and would miss its target. I thus slowly built something that could be considered a “credo”, a “recollection”, and a “check-list”, all at once.

I, for example, made every effort to formulate as precisely as possible what I considered to be pillars or foundations, which I believed had to constantly be recalled, that is:

  • the necessity to relentlessly turn to the Essential;
  • the necessity to work towards self-awareness;
  • the necessity to be, profoundly, sincerely and lucidly, attentive to others; and
  • the necessity to avoid neglecting anything of this world we live in.

I also laid out what I considered to be essential points of reference or foundation stones, such as saying: “God’s love for me is unconditional, limitless and endless”. These words, that may look like they were taken straight out of a catechism book, acquired a whole new reality and depth in “my” prayer. Every time I would say them, it would make me feel a little freer—even if only in an infinitesimal way—of the weight of the accumulated guilt-inducing beliefs that had clipped my wings. Saying that God’s love was unconditional made me feel that I could, or rather should, sweep away all my fears and move forward with the absolute certainty that He was here and would always be here. Benevolent.

In order to reinforce the words I used, I chose a few images, like the one, which I believe comes from a Psalm of the Bible, according to which we should be with God as confident as a small child playing next to his mother. The mere evocation of this confidence made me feel like I was experiencing a little bit of that confidence myself.

I noticed three effects from that prayer. First of all, the difficulties I had to pray decreased significantly. I had concretely experimented the fact that sincerity and attention, which are inextricably linked, were the key to access the true meaning of the words. I had only made baby steps, but deep inside, I could feel that I had to continue moving in that direction.

While this first effect was immediate, it took me a while to become aware of the second one. I slowly started to feel that something had changed. I find it difficult to convey what it was, because it was extremely subtle, almost imperceptible. It was as if some unconscious “work” had taken place and I could only perceive its results: the spiritual world had come closer, so to speak.

As for the third effect, it was quite unexpected. I rediscovered the prayers I had neglected. They didn’t feel rigid, external and distant anymore. Their words had become flavourful and real again. I felt like listening to them and letting them guide me.

This “tailor-made” prayer is not meant to assert one’s originality and individuality, but I am convinced that the only way to open up to more than what we are is to start from what we are. Indeed, this “I”, as minuscule as it may be, is the only possible starting point. Starting from anywhere else could only be a false start, and could only lead to imitation and repetition.

I do not doubt, of course, that there are other ways to approach prayer. But whatever these approaches might be, they must involve sincerity and attention.

I hope this short text will inspire others to share their experience. I, for one, would be very interested to read them.


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12 comments

  1. Holly Apr 09, 2014 12:03 am 1

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on prayers – it has reinforced some of the major points as to how I can improve my attention and concentration when praying.
    I also find it extremely hard to stay focus during my prayers – my thoughts are like loose cannons – they travel every where – as if I have no control on them!? However, one thing that has helped me to stay more focus is to imagine that I am opposit Him – he is looking at me and I am talking to Him . I also find it very fulfilling and become very excited when I simply talk to God – in my own simple and informal manner – I feel – I become closer and thus , much more excited – which on many occasions lifts me so high that I simply start to cry with joy – and for some reason I even become very poetic and write short poems for the beloved.

  2. aa Apr 09, 2014 5:53 pm 2

    I’ve been having difficultly connecting with my prayers, and have even forgotten the meaning of some of the words! Thank you, as your article inspired me to look up definitions and make my prayer personal again.

  3. Ramin Apr 10, 2014 1:04 am 3

    Thank you so much.This article is very deep and inspirational and makes me pay more attention during prayer.

  4. ma Apr 10, 2014 3:48 am 4

    That’s great you made it tangible for yourself, so you could connect with God more easily, and the purpose is served. Also we can talk with God after saying the words learned by heart and feel the connection, that’s my way of praying. Thanks for your sharing.

  5. ia Apr 10, 2014 2:55 pm 5

    Thank you for this article.
    I have been thinking about the lack of quality of most of my prayers and the little that I take with me from these prayers to accompany me during the day. And I was thinking just today about “guilt”—that I feel guilty for not being better, doing better, trying harder, understanding more or acting better.
    Your suggestion to direct our attention to our prayer and become aware of essentials such as: “God’s love for me is unconditional, limitless and endless” hit home. I feel that the guilt gnaws away at my connection to the One. It focuses my attention on “others” and it stifles me. I can only feel hope if God will love me unconditionally. How else could I even survive. Deep inside I know it, but the knowledge is not anchored enough in me to be part of me.
    I love how you suggest to anchor the words of our prayer in our lives, in words of our own to echo the words of prayer, as if to activate the prayer.
    I will try and activate my prayer more consciously.

  6. Mo Apr 10, 2014 9:54 pm 6

    Many thanks for this great post.
    On the issues of attention and sincerity:
    To be attentive , sometimes I repeat the parts of my prayer that I said without any attention , I try to push back other thoughts and imagine myself in a conversation with the “ONE” within myself.
    To be a bit more sincere sometimes I try to find real examples of those words in my life and recall them during my prayer. For example when I say ” God forgive me for my sins” , I can recall many sins.

  7. yocto Apr 11, 2014 4:48 pm 7

    When it comes to connection with the One, might I say, to me it’s all about awakening the emotions and use those emotions as a vessel to go to the dimension, zone, sphere where I experience the sincere connection with the One, where I only see, feel, sense one presence and only one, and that is His. I can’t say I don’t see or feel me, because it’s impossible, but my existence compared to His presence is… how should I put it… dimmed or fainted, it feels like I am there, but I am not, his presence takes over everything including me. Everyday, I wake up with a longing to reach that moment and I have promised myself to do my best to get there with practice. It never comes natural to me. Like you, I too need lots of preparation. When I hear the sound of a music, especially the sound of human voice, when played right, it takes me downright there for a split moment. So I have a playlist of those tunes. I have a poem with me, reading it once in a while, is a shortcut to that state (I don’t abuse it cuz I don’t want to lose it’s effect!) I also try to take advantage of emotions generated by the daily encounters in my life. And by emotions, I mean any kind of emotions. It could follow a feeling of humiliation or embarrassment, or after I forcefully try to push away a negative emotion. Or else, one day I was walking in a very nice neighborhood. I was enjoying the scenery. There was no way you could come across a homeless person in that area, but I did and there he was sitting under a tree, with his cart full of plastic bags by his side. The contrast between his situation and his surroundings made me stop for a moment. He was writing something in a note book. What are you writing I asked? Is it a diary? He said no, it’s a sitcom for TV. What’s it called? “The Deviant Show” it’s almost done, he smiled, it will be a hit! And continued writing. He was a young man, and every cell in my body was overflowed by emotions, and I was thinking somewhere, somehow, we failed him as a society, as a human being… only God knows how I felt for the man at that moment. All the rush of emotions took me to a place in my heart where I heard myself talking with the One saying we all failed this man, but I know you haven’t, you never had, and you never will. Because I know you… look what you did to me, haven’t I been a failure in my entire being? Yet you never gave up on me, never failed me and you never will. You have always picked me up, you have brought me up to this point, me, this speck of dirt… I continued with the words of love, words of praise, words of prayer.

  8. es63 Apr 18, 2014 2:45 pm 8

    I think the level of emotions experienced during a prayer/a dialogue with the One depends on a couple of factors:
    1) Whether the One would grace us with it (as these emotions can have a regressive effect as well as a progressive effect).
    2) How developed is the person’s sound reason and proximity to the Source.
    Based on my own experiences and opinions, I would like to share my results with the fellow readers…
    I used to begin my prayers with the hope of experiencing some sort of emotion but it never happened. This hope was an EXPECTATION, which is wrong. Based on some reading and a few discussions i came to the conclusion that “by wanting, longing, hoping, etc” for an emotional experience during a prayer I was establishing a mercantile relationship with the One which is harmful for my soul’s development. I like to think that i have corrected that error within me, to a point where the emotional factor of my prayer is not my priority. I have left it up to the One and the results have been life changing.
    While I don’t experience any emotions during my prayers, I have begun to rapidly feel/see His presence, hand and influence in my life. I notice my flaws more rapidly and at a deeper level. I would like to think my moral conscience has had some development as I have become more sensitive to my thoughts and actions.
    I would like to highlight another issue which I have experienced during my trials. Given the emotional factor not being my priority, I fell into a pitfall where an imbalance was created.
    This resulted in lack of enthusiasm for praying. By lack of enthusiasm I mean my prayers became a duty (something I would do on a daily basis). As a result of this flaw the quality of my prayers diminished because there wasn’t enough emotion involved.
    Based on my own understanding emotions will invoke sentiment and sentiment will invoke enthusiasm; all of which are vital for the quality of prayer and deriving the maximum benefits from it. Therefore, its important to maintain a balance to a point where we are enthusiastic and yearn to prayer without developing an expectation towards the One.

  9. pzlz Apr 19, 2014 7:11 pm 9

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this post! My approach to prayer although mechanical, I think it’s doing the job, judging by my actions during the day. Surprisingly, I think I am a bit less selfish these days, a bit less obnoxious, and a bit more attentive to my surroundings! So this is what I do once a day:

    1) i sit and set up my stopwatch to zero in front of me.
    2) i try to gather my thoughts and focus on the first word of my prayer “Dear Lord”.
    3) start my stopwatch and try to stay focused as much as humanly possible.
    4) continue to recite my prayer paying attention to the meaning of each word I say.
    5) as soon as I lose my focus, I look at the stopwatch and record my time.
    6) i go back to step 3 and start from where I left off.

    A while ago, a long while ago, I started with 3 seconds, now I can hold my attention for up to 30 seconds before my mind starts wandering around! This is turning into a competition against myself. My goal is to reach a full 3-minute attention without any interruptions…! After that, I’ll work on the quality, and then on intensity, and then increasing the length, and then repetition, and then it will be MAGNIFICO although I don’t think I will live long enough to get there…!

  10. Linda Apr 27, 2014 6:27 pm 10

    My two cents: I had always wondered how can one put an image on something so vast, so unimaginable, self-subsistent, not born and gave no birth, whose breathe gave and continues to give life to all beings that exist or may exist? I am convinced now, if the only way to connect to the One is to visualize Him and give Him an image, of a mother, father, friend… then I’d have no choice but to bring myself to the level of a microscopic being, maybe even less, far less, as far less as non-existent, to recognize and acknowledge the difference between His essence, His world, His vision and mine.

  11. adissam Jun 20, 2014 8:50 pm 11

    @pzlz

    I’d be interested to know more about the results of this method.

    I’ve tested listening to a piece of sacred music before and during my prayer. It can be helpful to focus my attention or disconnect from what I was doing a few minutes before.

  12. pzlz Jun 23, 2014 5:10 am 12

    @adissam

    Thank you for your interest in knowing the results! I am still at around 30 seconds and no progress has been made so far. I think it was really a combination of factors that got me to the 30-second benchmark and the stopwatch was very effective in the evaluation part. I think it is important to have a concrete tool to measure the progress. In terms of quality, music most definitely helps with the emotional part however, it hasn’t helped me with staying focused. In terms of the depth of my attention, I measure it by what comes to my mind when I say for example the word Unique, compared to what it used to mean to me six months or a year before. I admit that the stopwatch is a distraction in and of itself, maybe that’s why in the old days some used rosaries?!

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