When I was growing up as a Roman Catholic all I really knew were written and memorized prayers. Rarely did I ever pray extemporaneously.
Then when I became a committed follower of Jesus and attended an evangelical church all I ever did and saw modeled for me was to pray spontaneously, without any prior forethought. We never used written prayers. In fact, it was looked down upon as “unspiritual” if you could not pray “from your heart”. It was considered less spiritual and too fraught with the danger of becoming mechanical or ritualistic if you prayed other people’s prayers. So, for years and years I did not pray the prayers of the saints of old. Or even new saints. My prayers were my prayers and their prayers were their prayers.
That was a mistake. I threw the baby out with the bath water.
What made their prayers any less spiritual than my prayers? Why should it be automatically mechanical or rote to pray along with someone else’ heart? Why couldn’t I make those same attitudes, sentiments, motivations and words my own? After all, Jesus taught us to pray the Lord’s Prayer which we learn and recite from childhood. He wasn’t against a formal prayer; He was just against a heart that did not match the words that came off the lips. We pray the words of Psalm 23 and Psalm 51 and a host of other prayers from King David and the Psalms. we pray along with Saint Paul that:
…You, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge-that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3)
The evangelical church has done a disservice when it condemns those who pray from a set form or ritual. Whether it be a set liturgy or prayers from The Common Book Of Prayers, or a host of prayer books including Protestant (ranging from Mennonite to Anglican), Orthodox and Catholic, (even from the rosary; For Protestants uncomfortable praying to Mary it can be adjusted) the Holy Spirit is still at work. We don’t just say prayers to say prayers and fill a criteria or check a box. We pray to have communion with God and if written prayers can help then we ought to use them.
Some people have a really difficult time praying in a spontaneous way. I have been told by a number of people that they feel like their prayers are dull and weak and they feel their words are insufficient to express their hearts. I know that even for myself there is only so long that I can keep talking to God without feeling that I don’t have anything else to say. In the last several years I have sent out a Daily Engage The Word which serves as a Daily Office. It comes out twice a day and encourages people to stop, be silent, pray, read Scripture and reflect. Included in that is a “Prayer For The Week” which comes from a variety of sources. (If you would like to receive this and don’t, please email me at Hmcnaz@gmail.com and request to be put on the list). This week the prayer is what is commonly known as The Prayer Of Saint Patrick (one of a multitude of prayers he wrote down).
What better way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day than to pray this prayer. (Some corned beef and cabbage along with soda bread would only enhance the prayer time!)
I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of the sun,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of the wind,
Depth of the sea,
Stability of the earth,
Firmness of the rock.
I arise today
Through God’s strength to pilot me;
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s hosts to save me
Afar and anear,
Alone or in a mulitude.
Christ shield me today
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.
I arise today
Through the mighty strength
Of the Lord of creation.
What do you think? How does it make you feel?