Prayer is Conversation Between Friends: God & Me

Prayer is a big subject, about which there are many, many books that have been written.  But there are ways of understanding prayer as a conversation with God.

While giving a retreat, a Benedictine Priest of St. John's Abbey, in Collegeville, Minnesota, shared with us his master's thesis research on the subject of prayer.  He identified several aspects of prayer that can help us understand why we may have an affinity to one form of prayer over another.  Ultimately, we should learn to pray in every form, so that we can easily relate to one another as friends in prayer.  

We may find we enjoy the structured way of praying the Rosary, or perhaps it is difficult to use rote prayers. Maybe we like to use spontaneous words to share our heart with God, or maybe it makes us uncomfortable to not have structure. Sometimes it is nice to sit in solitude and silence, to meditate on deeper things, and sometimes sitting still is hard to do. Perhaps it is in serving others that we find a deep connection to God's love.

Below is a helpful chart to see how the different forms of prayer relate to one another: internal & external, structured & unstructured.  In the life of the Church, there have been saints that have exemplified these kinds of prayer.  Of course, all of the saints prayed in all of the ways mentioned, but sometimes it is helpful to see examples of living faith in order to help us understand that there are many ways to pray and converse with God.

  Internal External
Structured The movement of prayer is structured, interior & individual.
E.g., Service work.
St. Mother Theresa of Calcutta or St. Vincent de Paul.
The movement of prayer is structured, exterior & communal.
E.g., Holy Mass or the Rosary.
St. Dominic or St. Catherine of Sienna.
Unstructured The movement of prayer is unstructured, interior & individual.
E.g., Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament or meditation.
St. John of the Cross or St. Theresa of Avila
The movement of prayer is unstructured, exterior & communal.
E.g., Charismatic or spontaneous.
St. Thérèse of Lesieux or St. John Paul II

No one form of prayer is the best way to pray per se, although Holy Mass is our greatest communal prayer as a Church. It is good to remember that the goal of prayer is friendship with God. God initiates, we respond as best we can.  Jesus prays continuously through the Holy Spirit with his Father.  We are to do the same. 

It is important to become comfortable with reciting established prayers, to pray without preset words, to rest in solitude and silence, and to see Jesus in the people we serve.  God invites us to grow in faith, to believe what we cannot always see.  

Communal prayer helps us to share one voice. It wears down rough edges of distraction and desolation through self-discipline and charity. It calls us to love others as they are, to allow God to be the one who helps us change, not our impatience for the lack of discipline or conviction we think we see in others. 

Personal prayer helps us to grow in vulnerability with God. It is difficult to allow someone to truly look at us in our weakness, even to judge us where we think we stand.  God loves us as we are, and yet God loves us too much to leave us as we are.  We need God. We need to be shown our helplessness without God's grace to lift us out of darkness and glorify our soul in love. 

Contemplation is allowing ourselves to be loved.  This is much more difficult than it sounds. We often feel we have a lot to say or nothing to say. Simply resting in the Father's love can be a great challenge. We get impatient. We want to be heard rather than to listen. We want to be consoled rather than to submit ourselves in obedience to whatever God wills for us.  This is why it is so vital to be united with Christ, in the Church.  We must learn to pray like Jesus, with Jesus, with his Body, the Church.  It's why we drag ourselves out of bed to attend Holy Mass. It is why we get up early to say personal prayers or sacrifice other activities to recite the rosary as a family.  Friendship takes sacrifice, time, and a desire to grow through ups and downs of personal difficulties. God is the most faithful friend, even when we are not. God invites us to deeper friendship whenever we are ready to accept it, whenever we are ready to allow ourselves to be loved.