There are a number of ways to pray, the two most basic being liturgical prayer and informal prayer. Liturgical prayer is very common in the Roman Catholic Church in which I grew up. Certain prayers are memorized and then repeated at appropriate times. Informal prayer is a conversation with God and is more personal. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.
For the most part I prefer informal prayer because I have to actually think about what I’m going to say. If each morning I would greet my wife and children with a memorized greeting, I think they might suspect my sincerity or else my sanity…
“Good morning, dear. Good morning, children. I hope you have a wonderful day.” It might work for HAL in 2001, but it wouldn’t work around here.
Liturgical prayer has its place, however. Sunday Mass or services works much better with some structure – especially for those parts that are sung. If each member of the congregation sang their own personal heartfelt message according to their own melody I suspect it would not produce something “Pleasing to the Lord.”
On the other hand, informal prayer calls for a discipline that is more difficult. I try very hard to be good at praying, but the results are not quite phenomenal.
“Thank you God for my family. Thank you for my wife and my kids. Oh that reminds me, Adam outgrew his shoes, so I need to get him new shoes before the band concert. What day is that concert? Is it at his school or the high school? I’m not sure. Do they have to be black shoes or are brown okay. He’ll probably only wear them for the two band concerts before he outgrows them because he always wears sneakers. I can’t believe how expensive dress shoes are.
“Sorry, Lord, I got distracted…”
I’m sure God understands, but I do wish I could be better at prayer. Sometimes I do best when I take a liturgical prayer and actually contemplate what it means. Two major prayers for us Catholics are the Lord’s Prayer and the Hail Mary. For those of you who are not Catholic, the Hail Mary is basically the message from the Angel Gabriel followed by Elizabeth’s response to learning of Mary’s pregnancy.
The Lord ’s Prayer is interesting for many reasons, the first of which was that Jesus was asked how people should pray. His response led to the Lord ’s Prayer. If you look at scripture (Matthew 6:9-13 or Luke 11|: 2-4 ) you’ll notice that we do not say it word-for-word although the thought is pretty much the same. Catholics use a shorter version that does not include the doxology (“For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory now and forever”) although at Mass this is added after the priest says “Deliver us not into temptation and save us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”
When I pray the Lord’s Prayer, I try to think of what each part means.
“Our, Father, Who art in heaven” – God is our true Father and his home is in heaven, where we hope to be some day.
“Hallowed be Thy name.” – God is so perfect, so holy that even His very name is sacred.
“Thy kingdom come.” – God has not yet claimed what it is His – but He will.
“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” – His will is supreme. Everything turns out the way He has planned. Heaven responds more quickly and efficiently, perhaps, but even here everything goes according to His will.
“Give us this day our daily bread,” – Everything we receive. Every bite of food, every sip of drink, every breath is given by God.
“And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” – We ask forgiveness according to how we forgive others. In order to be forgiven we need to forgive others.
“And lead us not to into temptation” – We know that when we are tempted we often give in, so we ask not to be placed in the position to be tempted.
“But deliver us from evil.” – We know there is plenty of evil, so we ask to be able to avoid it.
It’s easy for me to just say the words, but when I think about what they really mean it takes a lot more effort.