Time to slow down

Prayer has been one of those activities that most of us have referred to, but struggle with when it comes to its actual practice. What is prayer? What does it look like? What are the benefits? Does it make a difference?

Perhaps the best-known definition of prayer is from St. John Damascene: “Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God.” Well, maybe the second part of that definition is the best-known. “I will pray for you,” “please keep me in your prayers,” are phrases we use often. We actually do spend time in quiet asking God for things. Most of the time good things — that is a whole topic of another week’s letter! While prayer does involve supplication (asking God for things), it is much more than that.

One of the first books on prayer that I read was “Opening to God” by Father Thomas Green, S.J. He tweaked St. John Damascene’s definition a bit and called prayer an opening of mind and heart to God. The reason was prayer is ultimately God crossing the divide between the infinite and the finite. We are unable to do so on our own. Prayer involves an act of humility, recognizing our limitations. In fact, the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” states that “humility is the foundation of prayer” (CCC #2558). This helps us understand that prayer isn’t so much what we say, but rather our disposition and being open and listening.

The “Catechism” also contains one of my favorite definitions of prayer by St. Therese of Lisieux: “For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward Heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy” (CCC #2558). 

Prayer requires that we take time to quiet the mind and the heart, to recognize the presence of God and to sit in that presence. It will involve words of thanksgiving and praise and requests, but the majority of the experience is being in quiet. Perhaps that is why we struggle with prayer so much. Our minds are always racing.

I read a newspaper article a week or so ago about society’s focusing on the importance of sleep. The problem is that we are always on the go, always thinking about the problems and possible solutions, etc. We know what is keeping us awake at night, but we don’t want to deal with the root issue: slow down. 

The same things keeping us awake are preventing us from praying. The solution is the same, it won’t just suddenly change until we decide to let it and take the steps necessary that will allow us to come to quiet, at least for part of our day. This quiet not only will benefit our health, but also our Spiritual lives as it will allow us to truly be open to recognizing God in our midst and to spend some time in that presence.

Anchor columnist Father David Frederici is pastor of St. George Parish in Westport and diocesan director of Campus Ministry and chaplain at UMass Dartmouth and Bristol Community College.

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