Patricia A. Merlo, M.P.M.

Prayer

Wondering How to Pray?

Here are some methods of prayer you may find helpful.

  • Praying with the Bible (Lectio Divina)
    Allowing God to speak to you through passages from Scripture.
  • Praying with Sacred Images (Visio Divina)
    Allowing sacred images to draw you into a conversation with God.
  • Praying with Nature (Creatio Divina)
    Finding and drawing closer to God through nature.  
  • Bringing Your Feelings to Prayer
    Speaking honestly with God about your feelings.
  • Prayer of the Heart/Gospel Contemplation/Prayer of St. Ignatius
    Imaginatively placing yourself in a biblical story is a form of prayer that helps you recognize the gifts, blessings, and presence of a loving God in the here and now of the ordinary events and relationships of everyday life.
  • Discerning God’s Will in Daily Life/Examen Prayer
    Reflecting on the day in a way that helps us discover God’s continual presence in our everyday lives and relationships.
  • Contemplative/Centering Prayer
    Using a “sacred word” to draw you into a meditation/prayer without images.
  • The Jesus Prayer
    An ancient prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.”
  • Prayer for Inner Healing
    Praying for healing of past experiences.
  • The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola
    Coming to know God and Jesus more intimately, becoming the person God created you to be, discerning what God is asking of you, and stre
    ngthening your commitment to build God’s Kingdom among us.
  •  

    Click here for summaries of the first eight methods.Screen Shot 04-19-20 at 01.27 PM

    Before Beginning to Pray…

    When we get together with a close friend, our conversation usually begins with “rituals” to reconnect with our friend, maybe by hugging each other or by shaking hands. Then comes some “small talk” when we catch up and (unconsciously) reestablish the bond that makes us feel comfortable before diving into the heart-to-heart conversation that nourishes the friendship.

    Likewise, prayer is a conversation with God.  So, before starting to pray, it’s helpful to take a few moments to (re)connect—to set aside the distractions and busyness of everyday life. Although we can’t hug or shake hands with God, there are ways to bring our whole self—our body, mind, and spirit—into our prayer.

    Below are a few suggestions as to how do this.  These simple gestures can express your intention to speak honestly with God and to “hear” whatever God may wish to say to you. 

    1. Bringing your whole self to prayer:

      a. Sit comfortably and gently roll your shoulders back and forth, intentionally opening your heart to God.

      b. Or, begin with these simple gestures (adapted from the Body Prayer of Julian of Norwich):

      • (cup your hands as if to receive) Become AWARE that God is present right here and right now, even if it’s not necessarily in a way that you might feel or even imagine.
      • (raise your hands and arms above your head) ALLOW yourself to be completely open to God’s presence.
      • (place your hands on your heart) ACCEPT as a gift whatever God is offering you. Perhaps a profound peace, a consolation, a challenge, an insight, a desire to draw closer to God, a trust in God’s unconditional love—whether you sense it or not at this moment.
      • (with open hands) ATTEND Ask God to help you act as God’s reflection, to bring God’s love, compassion, and forgiveness into your everyday circumstances and relationships. 
         

    2. Don’t be afraid to ask for the grace you desire.
    For example, you may desire inner peace, to be more compassionate, to be able to forgive, to grow in knowledge and love of God, to have a deeper trust in God, et cetera.  (Even mystics and saints prayed for the deepest desires of their hearts. For more than twenty years, Julian of Norwich prayed for the grace of “true contrition for sins” and for a deeper “yearning for God”.)

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1. Praying with the Bible (Lectio Divina)

  • Begin by choosing a passage of 50-75 words for your prayer. (Suggestions are given below under ”Additional Resources.”
  • READ  Having asked for the grace to hear God’s Word, read the passage slowly (and out loud if possible.)
  • REFLECT Reread the passage, stopping at any sentence, word, image, or feeling that strikes you. Perhaps something that resonates within you as particularly beautiful, as something you’d like to better understand, or where you feel God may be speaking to you. You might ask: What is God saying to me here? How does this apply to me--my relationships, my decisions, and everyday life?
  • SPEAK spontaneously, personally, and directly to God about your reflection.
  • REST   Listen contemplatively for any response God might choose to make. Remember that God responds to us at times with loving silence.
  • CLOSEwith a prayer of thanks.
  • You might move through these “steps” in any order, and even repeat them. Don’t hurry. Let God’s Word take hold of you.

     Additional Resources

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2. Praying with Sacred Images (Visio Divina)

  1. Suggestions for sacred/religious images which might lead to a conversation with God are listed below under “Additional Resources”.
  2. ASK for the grace to recognize God’s Word resonating within you.
  3. READ Slowly look at the whole image. Notice any reactions without judging or engaging them.
  4. REFLECT Return to the image with an open mind and heart. Prayerfully ponder how the meanings, ideas, feeling, desires, or memories that come to you are connected to your life. Is God whispering His word in your heart? What thoughts, feelings, questions, memories or desires are stirring within you?
  5. RESPOND  While looking at the image, respond to God in ways that fit your prayer: gratitude, praise, sorrow, petition, etc. Continue to look upon the image as you pray. Then, close and rest your eyes briefly.
  6. REST  Rest in God’s presence. Be still with God, held in His love and grace. Quietly listen for any response God might choose to make. Remember that God responds to us at times with loving silence.
  7. CLOSE with an “Our Father or a “Glory Be”.
  8. Additional Resources:

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3. Praying with Nature (Creatio Divina)

  • ASK for the grace to recognize God’s Word speaking to you through Creation.
  • NOTICE your reactions (sensory, emotional, and physical) without evaluating or engaging them. a) Breathe deeply, b) Listen attentively, c) Look closely, d) Smell, e) Touch textures, f) Feel a connection to the Earth. (10 minutes)
  • REFLECT on whatever created the strongest reaction within you. With an open mind and heart, ponder how new feelings, desires, insights, or memories relate to your life (5 min.)
  • RESPOND to God with gratitude, praise, awe, sorrow, petition, reverence, gestures, etc. (5 min)
  • REST Be still with God who is holding you in His love and grace. Listen for any response God might choose to make, remembering that, at times, God responds with loving silence (5 min.)
  • CLOSE with a “Glory be to the Father…”

     Additional Resources:

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4. Bringing Feelings to Prayer

  1. Feelings are named with one word: i.e. mad, sad, glad, afraid, lonely, confused, peaceful, awed, bored, numb, grateful, powerful, weak, embarrassed, et cetera. Even if you start by saying, “I feel that…”, what follows is a thought not a feeling.
  2. The Psalms (often called Jesus’ Prayer Book) express the whole range of human emotions. They “give you permission” to bring all your feelings to your prayer.
  3. The psalms encourage you to “pour out your heart to Him, for God is your refuge” (Ps 62:8)
  4. Their brutal images prove that God can take it when we tell Him what’s in our heart, no matter how raw the feelings may be: “O God, smash the teeth in their mouths!...Make them vanish like water flowing away, trodden down, let them wither like grass. Let them dissolve like a snail that oozes away, like an untimely birth that never sees the sun” (Ps. 58:7-9) “A blessing on the man who seizes their children and smashes them against a rock!” (Ps 137:9).
  5. Fr. William Meninger, OCSO, lays out a strong case in support of this no-holds-barred approach to prayer: “Bring your hurts, your sorrows, your loneliness to the Lord. If this is what you have, this must be the gift you bring to the altar. At times this gift may be only your confusion, your despair, even your anger. Prayer avoids denial [of your feelings] and brings you to face real issues. Things you may never be able to say to another human being, you can bring to the Lord who already knows them…God wants this from you because you need it. You need the opportunity to express your frustration, your sorrow, your sense of injustice, or your rage.” (Process of Forgiveness.New York: Continuum 1997, pp. 22-23)
  6. Imagine pouring out your heart to God. What thoughts and feelings emerge?  Do you feel safe enough to tell God exactly how you feel? If no, ask God to give you the courage to speak honestly with Him. 
  7. Below is a prayer exercise that offers a way to “bring your feelings to prayer”. The original questions (from Jean Gill) are written in italics on the left side of the page. My suggestions are added on the right

 

How to Bring Your Feelings to Prayer

What am I really feeling?

Click here to open a list of Feeling Words. Circle those that name your feelings. 

How do I feel about what I am feeling?

It may be helpful to visualize your feeling(s) as if it were sitting in a chair across from you. Then, speak aloud to the feeling.  

What do I really want?

Answering this question helps you recognize the deepest desires of your heart. For example, St. Therese of Lisieux had the confidence to pray that she become a saint: “Jesus I know that you will answer my prayer to be a saint. Otherwise, you would not have placed this desire in me. You would not have given me that desire without giving me the [grace] to realize it.”

How do I feel about what I want?

Refer again to the list of feeling words.

 

What am I like right now?

Again, it may be helpful to visualize how you feel by using stick figures or other images to give size, shape, color, or movement to your answer.

How do I feel about what I am like?

-Now, notice God

Additionally, can you sense where/how your emotions are being expressed in your body?

 What is your Image of God? Who picks up the phone when you “call” God?

What is God's attitude and feeling about :
- what I am feeling

- what I am trying to do?
- what I want?
- what I am like?

Caveat: Although these questions are suggested with a certain audacity and presumption, it can be instructive to imagine how/what God may feel and think about you.

How does God see me at this very moment?

You might use your imaginative senses to “see” with God’s eyes or to “hear” what God may be saying to you, or to feel/sense what is in God’s heart.

How is God looking at me?

How close is God right now?

Often, we don’t know why God seems distant. Often, we don’t know why God seems distant, or why we feel unlovable/unloved by God. We don’t always understand what God’s up to!

    Stay with the questions. Allow them to become more and more concrete.

    (From: Distractions in Prayer Stumbling Blocks or Stepping Stones? Jean Gill. Presence: The Journal of Spiritual Directors International Vol. 3, No. 1 January 1997)

         For reflection:

      • What was the most difficult part about sharing yourself so openly with the Lord?
      • Did any part of this prayer experience spark a feeling of joy or peace within you? 
      • Was there something you learned about yourself? About the Lord?

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5. Prayer of the Heart/Gospel Contemplation/ 
                Prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola
 

  • Choose a short Gospel story (e.g. begin with Luke Chapter 4).
  • Ask for the grace you wish to receive.
  • Slowly read the passage, and imaginatively enter the place of this scripture. Look at the people, their expressions, and actions. Listen. Can you feel/sense the mood? Does someone (want to) touch you/another? “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps 34:9). Ask yourself: Who or where might I be in this story?
  • Going deeper. Ask the Holy Spirit to create a bridge between the biblical stories and the circumstances of your life and relationships.
  • Colloquy: At any time, speak freely and honestly with God as one friend to another.
  • Repetition: Stay with (and later return to) any part that is touching or challenging you.
  • Review: What happened in you? What stood out?  A particular word or image? A strong feeling? An insight, memory, desire, challenge?
  • Close with a prayer of thanks or Our Father.
  • Additional resources:

 

    FAQ, Doubts, and Objections

  • I don’t have any imagination.”
    Think of a time when you found yourself waiting, perhaps you were standing in line at a store or waiting to see a doctor. Next, imagine that there is a person close by who has a crying baby AND a toddler who is demanding a candy bar.
    Now, imagine, your reaction if you overhear the mother yell at the child, saying, “Stop being so bad!” How might you feel if you see her slap the child? Perhaps you experience either a “fight” or “flight” sensation?  Maybe you just want to say something to the mother, or maybe you just want to get as far away from them as possible. If you could “picture” or “hear” or “feel” that scene, you can be assured that you have an active imagination!  And, you can use your imagination to become more aware of how and where God is present and active in your everyday life.
     
  • How do I know that I am not just making this up?
    Many people who begin to pray in this manner wonder: “Is this really prayer, or is it all in my head? Am I just making it all up?” Actually, the best answer comes in the form of another question: If God can speak to you through other people and through the circumstances of your life, why can’t God speak to you through your imagination and your heart?
    As a sort of litmus test, you can look at the fruits of your contemplation. If your prayer leads to greater faith, hope, or love, you can trust that it is under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. If you feel called to turn away from sinful patterns in your life (called by a God who loves you, and not by a voice that condemns you or says that you are unworthy of love or forgiveness), then you can trust that this prayer is the work of the Holy Spirit within you.
     
  • Isn’t contemplative prayer only for “holy people”
    Like other forms of contemplative prayer, Prayer of the Heart is a gift
    from God. But, “paradoxical as it may seem, it would not even occur to a person—no, nor to an angel or a saint—to desire [this or other forms of ] contemplative prayer were it not already alive within him. . . . Contemplative prayer is God’s gift, wholly gratuitous. No one can earn it. And, it is the nature of this gift that the one who receives it also receives the aptitude for it.” (from The Cloud of Unknowing, Chap. 34)
     
  • Is Prayer of the Heart a spiritual self-improvement plan?
    This is not a “self-help talk”
    or a spiritual “New Year’s resolution” about what you should/should not be doing. Prayer of the Heart is a way to open your whole self—the nitty-gritty details of everyday lives and relationships—to the power and guidance of our Creator who loves you tenderly and unconditionally.
     
  • I am not “worthy” of God's love and/or forgiveness.
    No kidding! No
    one can earn or merit salvation, but all were made “worthy” through the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. God is not waiting for you to change before He will love you. God is already drawing you to Himself.  The fact that you have read this far is your “YES” to God, your response to God’s invitation to a relationship of mutual love.
     
  • I am not sure if I can trust God.”
    Most of us experience this unspoken doubt.
    Many of us are afraid that God might ask us to be a missionary in Africa, or something else that is outside of our comfort zone. But there is no need to worry. God will only ask you for what is best for you—what reflects the deepest desire of your heart.
     

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6. Discerning God’s Will in Daily Life -- (The Examen Prayer)

 

  • become aware of the love with which God looks upon me.
  • I note and give thanks for the gifts that God has given me this day.
  • ask the Holy Spirit for the insights, receptivity, and grace to see clearly what God wants me to notice from my day.
  • With my God, I review the day. I look for the stirrings in my heart and the thoughts that God has given me. I look also for those that have not been of God. I review my choices in response to both and throughout the day.
  • Forgiveness: I ask for the healing touch of the forgiving God who, with love and respect for me removes my heart’s burdens.
  • look forward to the following day and, with God, plan concretely how to live it in accord with God’s loving desire for my life.
  • “Glory Be…” 
    (Gallagher, Examen Prayer, p. 25).

    Additional Resources:

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7. Contemplative/Centering Prayer (apophatic prayer without images)

  • Choose a specific amount of time for your prayer, perhaps 5-15 minutes, and set an alarm.
  • Choose a sacred word – as a symbol of your intention to be open to God’s presence and action within you.
  • Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly, and silently introduce the sacred word as a focus on your consent to God’s presence and action within.  
  • When you become aware of thoughts, feelings, images, physical sensations, or any other distractions, return ever so gently to the sacred word. [Avoid engaging the distractions. Any analyzing, commentaries, guilt feelings, or judgments are more distracting than the original thought.]
  • At the end of the prayer, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes.

          (source: Keating, Intimacy with God, pp. 63-64)

     Additional Resources

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8. Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

     Those who teach and practice this form of prayer (primarily the spiritual
     fathers and mothers of the Orthodox Church) recommend that you get
     your spiritual house in order before beginning this prayer:

    • cultivate sorrow for sin and conversion of heart—at least want to cut out any serious sin from your life.
    • become part of a worshipping community.
    • fast, give alms, and serve the needs of others.
    • confess your sins, ideally to a priest if possible.

    GUIDELINES

  • All prayer is a grace, a gift of God, so ask the Holy Spirit to help you pray.
  • Remember your prayer is an intensely personal communication with Christ. (The Jesus Prayer is not a mantra or way to relax.)
  • Use songs or other prayers to “wake up your heart” before beginning the Jesus Prayer.
  • Start with a 3 – 5 minute prayer time.
  • Don’t rush or count the repetitions.
  • Don’t try to unite your prayer with your breath; (that can lead to hyperventilation).
  • This is a way to “pray without images”. This form of apophatic prayer recognizes that Christ is beyond anything we can think, feel, or imagine. Avoid engaging your imagination, using pictures, or visualizing Christ. (The Jesus Prayer is a non-discursive method of prayer without images, thoughts, feelings, or desires.)
  • You were created for prayer -- for relationship with God -- but it takes hard work to fight the stream of thoughts, feelings, and other sensations which vie for your attention during prayer. Expect distractions.
  • Regular practice of the Jesus Prayer creates a pause between you and your automatic reactions. This pause allows Jesus—who knows and loves you intimately —to heal and free you from whatever keeps you from being the person you were created to be.
  • If strange, odd or distressing images, thoughts, desires, etc. emerge during your prayer, please consult a priest or spiritual director.
    1. (source: YouTube video Building a Simple Prayer Rule by the Very Reverend Phrotopresbyter Fr. Maxym Lysack, published on October 24, 2017)

    Additional Resources

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9. Prayer for Healing of Memories

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10.  The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola

    Traditionally offered as a 30 day retreat, the Spiritual Exercises can be made as a “Retreat in Daily Life”.

    • Click here for more information.

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(Page Last Updated 4/21/2020

©2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 Patty Merlo