When we pray, should we use a method? Should we attempt to “progress” in prayer? Perhaps we rarely consider prayer as something we need to study and learn, as a “skill” to work on. Yet, we might nevertheless lament our difficulties in prayer. How can we learn to pray better, even while recognizing that prayer is first and foremost a gift and grace, and comes from the Holy Spirit more than from our own efforts?
Generally, methods of prayer aim at helping a worshiper to enter and leave the state of prayer. They are methods that enable us to prepare the soil of our soul, and then at the end of our time of prayer, to make a concrete resolution. While these are important points, it is good to recall that this emphasis is a “modern” phenomenon, dating to the 16th century, when private prayer began again to receive attention. We see, for example, St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross speaking of these themes, whereas the Rule of St. Benedict does not.
In monastic tradition, liturgy itself plays the role of a prayer method. The Psalms provide us with the most beautiful prayers possible. The worshiper is the one who allows himself to be submerged by liturgy and the Word of God that it contains.
From this, we can see that we who are the beneficiaries of so many centuries of prayer can feel at ease. Prayer does not have just one method. It places us before God in our nothingness. And there will be difficulties, no matter what methods we learn. As one monk used to say, “He who has never experienced boredom before God, knows not what the life of prayer is.”
Nevertheless, it should be mentioned that some methods of prayer are less effective than others. For example, there is a tendency in some methods to overly rely on imagination and make very little use of the Scriptures. It’s good to learn prayer methods from those who are truly masters of prayer, such as the saints.
Surely, no matter the method we use, the Holy Spirit will see our hearts desire to grow closer to Him in prayer, and respond to our needs.
Brother Thierry-Dominique Humbrech