When it comes to prayer, I must admit that I am not a natural. Prayer is something that I have to work at. Throughout my spiritual journey, I have had times of great consistency in regular prayer and many times where I just didn't make time. (I can honestly say, however, that the times when I've grown the most have been those when I made regular prayer a priority - a scheduled part of the day.)
I really like some of the advice Br. Lawrence gives in this letter because I can identify with it. My mind seems to go "90 to nothing" when I try to slow down for time with God. All the things that I had meant to put on my "to do" list for the day flood into my mind, I start thinking about something I've been reading, I start daydreaming. I've found that I'm not that good at stopping early in the morning for an hour of uninterrupted prayer. I have learned a few things that have helped me, though, so I'll share them for those who might find it useful.
1. Schedule prayer. I find that if I put some time on the calendar or agenda for the day, I am more likely to actually make it a priority. I will never "get around to it," so I schedule it. Maybe this could be seen as being legalistic and "checking it off my list" for the day, but the way I see it: if it's important, you'll make time for it.
2. Breath prayers. I wrote about this a couple of days ago (see reflection on Third Letter), but taking Br. Lawrence's advice, I often try to keep to short prayers that I say throughout the day rather than one long prayer.
3. Body prayers. I find that it is helpful for me to pray with my whole body. Maybe this means praying while kneeling, while laying prostrate on the floor, while holding something that reminds me of God, prayer walking, or many other ways. I find it helpful to engage my body as well as my mind and spirit. (A couple of books that I've found helpful in this are Body Prayer by Padgitt and Prill and Praying With the Body by Roy Deleon.)
4. Keep a pad of paper nearby while praying. Since I always tend to think of a thousand things I "need" to do while praying, I sometimes keep a pad nearby. When a thought comes up, I don't fight it, I just stop for a moment, write it down, and return to my focus on God. I don't beat myself over this, I just try to refocus gently.
5. Doodling prayer. One practice I've started more recently is that of "Praying in Color." An idea I read about in the book, Praying in Color by Sybil MacBeth, this is a kind of prayer through doodling. Although you don't have to be an artist to pray in this manner, I have found that it really allows me to be creative in my prayers in a rich and wonderful way. (MacBeth has a good introduction to the practice on her website: Praying in Color.)
6. Pray the Daily Office. Throughout the history of the Church, people have stopped at certain times throughout the day to say prescribed prayers. These are usually prayers that are written down, but have special meaning for a particular community. It may be as simple as saying the Lord's Prayer three times a day or as elaborate as meeting together to chant the psalms five times a day. If you are interested in a place to start on this idea of the Daily Office, try praying the Lord's Prayer in the morning, noon, and evening, really focusing on what you are saying and its meaning. Or, try this website put up by a friend of mine in the New Monasticism - it has prayers for each day (Common Prayer - not be confused with the Episcopal Church's Book of Common Prayer).
Now, before anyone else points it out, I fully recognize the seeming disconnect between this post and my reflection on Br. Lawrence's first letter. There, he talks about getting overwhelmed by all the diverse practices of the spiritual life. My own little list might fall into just that category. I don't see this as disconnected, however. The main thing is to know that these are all only tools. The goal of each of them is to help us find a meaningful way to connect with God. If you have that, awesome. If not, try one of these out and see if it is helpful. In the end, we just want to find a way to "pray continually, giving thanks in all circumstances."
What about you? What practices have you found helpful in your prayer life? Post them in the comments section (click on "comments" below the title).