Prayer--our desperate need for it--has been on my mind a lot lately. My readings have been leaning in that direction, as well. Clearly, the thing is, of course, not so much to think about prayer, nor read about prayer, but to pray. I have a long way to go, in that area, but spending more and more time in the Psalms is a big help.
I was also blessed to attend a retreat yesterday with Fr. Patrick Reardon as speaker, the subject being--prayer. He used Luke 18—with the examples of the persistent widow, the publican and the Pharisee, and the beggar on the road to Jericho--as a springboard to talk about the cultivation of constant prayer. As these stories illustrate, prayer is meant to be repetitive and persistent. Fr. Patrick even suggested that we should never answer the phone without saying a prayer first. Lord, have mercy. We should never have a conversation without praying first. All our conversations should be 3-way. Lord, have mercy. We should never start our cars without praying first. Lord, have mercy. I suspect those who ride with me already do this :) Later, he discussed the hours of prayer (matins, 3rd, 6th, 9th, and vespers) and how these were in place during the 1st century. What I found intriguing, however, was his explication of how Christ-centered these blocks of time were; how each was tied in some way to the crucifixion of Christ. He noted that the ancient Christians thought a great deal more about Jesus Christ on the cross every day than modern Christians are wont to do. He concluded that our prayers should be saturated in the blood of Christ. Anyway, his talk was timely for me.
Some recent readings on prayer that I’ve found useful are, as follows:
St. Mark the Ascetic (5th Century), On the Spiritual Law: Two Hundred Texts
22. There are many different methods of prayer. No method is harmful; if it were, it would be not prayer but the activity of Satan.
25. At the times when you remember God, increase your prayers, so that when you forget Him, the Lord may remind you.
113. He who prays with understanding patiently accepts circumstances, whereas he who resents them has not attained pure prayer.
St. Evagrios the Solitary (4th Century), On Prayer: One Hundred and Fifty-Three Texts
31. Do not pray for the fulfillment of your wishes, for they may not accord with the will of God. But pray as you have been taught, saying: Thy will be done in me (cf. Luke 22:42). Always entreat Him in this way—that His will be done. For He desires what is good and profitable for you, whereas you do not always ask for this.
38. Pray first for the purification of the passions; secondly, for deliverance from ignorance and forgetfulness; and thirdly, for deliverance from all temptation, trial and dereliction.
39. In your prayer seek only righteousness and the Kingdom of God, that is, virtue and spiritual knowledge; and everyting else ‘will be given to you’ (Matt. 6:33).
40. It is right to pray for your own purification, but also for that of all your fellow men, and so to imitate the angels.
C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm
Now the disquieting thing is not simply that we skimp and begrudge the duty of prayer. The real disquieting thing is that it has to be numbered among duties at all. For we believe that we have been created ‘to glorify God and enjoy him forever.’ And the few, the very few, minutes we now spend on intercourse with God are a burden to us rather than a delight, what then?
Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island
Prayer is inspired by God in the depth of our own nothingness. It is the movement of trust, of gratitude, of adoration, or of sorrow that places us before God, seeing both Him and ourselves in the light of his infinite truth, and moves us to ask Him for the mercy, the spiritual strength, the material help that we all need. The man whose prayer is so pure that he never asks God for anything does not know who God is, and does not know who he is himself; for he does not know his own need for God.
Finally, Tom Howard, in Evangelicalism is Not Enough, said something to the effect that our feelings have nothing to do with why we pray. Rather, we pray because that is what the people of God do.