If you have heard of the personal benefits of the spiritual practice of prayer, you may be curious about how to start to pray in private. Most major religions involve prayer.
We can pray out loud or silently. One way is to follow material already written. We can read or remember it. I use the Lord’s Prayer. Then if we wish, we can start to speak spontaneously. Of course if this is a new thing to do, you may be wondering what to say and who to pray to.
We sometimes feel immersed in the muddle, disarray, and emotions of hectic daily life. At such times it is difficult to imagine how the mind can be quietened by starting to pray.
When we have low energy and feel pessimistic with other negative thoughts, it is hard to envisage any uplift and inspiration if we were to pray.
One might feel out of control in one’s life. Consuming alcohol or food without moderation can cause this feeling. Then there is a risk of losing what is precious such as good health. It can be hard to imagine what strength prayer can bring to change our bad habits.
We may fear we will end up just talking to ourselves. Is there anyone there hearing what I’m saying? With no visible presence it all feels rather vague. How can I discuss problems and possibilities when I won’t hear anyone’s voice? Not like talking with our friends and relations. They can chat with us about what we should do about this or that, or discuss a problem over a drink.
Who to pray to
We don’t want to pray to someone who is unsympathetic and who ‘knows it all’ and will lecture us us on our failings like an autocratic head teacher. No, you need to feel you are with a special presence that is full of kindness and who is not being judgmental. One you can open your heart to person to person.
Throughout history people have prayed to a deity, spirit, or deceased person. I would recommend starting to pray to whom I call the Lord. This I see as the human face of the Divine – someone full of compassion and mercy. This is not the condemning punitive God of traditional Christianity. But the forgiving, healing and selfless Jesus of the Gospels. One who does not flinch from telling us the truth if it helps us and who wants nothing more than our lasting happiness.
What to say
You will want to express your thoughts and emotions. To ask for something to happen or for guidance. Or perhaps to express thanks or give tribute. Any of these are possible. There may be awkward moments when we realise we have said something daft or unfeeling or when we suddenly appreciate the full implications of some casual comment. It doesn’t matter how we talk. It is what we say that matters and the spirit in which we say it. What one says will probably feel too private and personal to talk about with others.
What does matter however is whether we are also listening. I have found it’s no good praying merely to get confirmation for my own views about things. One needs also to be prepared to have one’s eyes opened.
I have never heard a voice but do notice a quiet idea coming into my head. An idea that seems to be relevant to what I am saying. It may not be too obvious at first but listening is a skill that needs development. When we are really attentive then it becomes more noticeable. When I’m simply going through the motions then I learn nothing. But when I sincerely pray from the heart, I do hear a helpful message. Not so much when I ask for what I want but, more often than not, when I have been asking what the Lord wants of me.
When I pray I begin by reciting the Lord’s Prayer. It helps me bring the presence of the Lord into my consciousness so I can more easily get into a sort of conversation. I remember the words to recite because my mother used to say the prayer to me every bedtime when I was a small child. Here is a modern version with a brief suggested meaning that resonates with me.
Our Father in heaven. We are praying to you the Lord Jesus, our spiritual father. We feel awe and wonder for your divine humanity as our spiritual source.
Hallowed be your name May all things bearing the stamp of what you teach be profoundly true for us.
Your kingdom come May the goodness you embody be the truth that rules our lives.
Your will be done as in heaven so upon earth May we be inspired by your unselfish love to bring it into ordinary life.
Give us today our daily bread Nourish us with the good desires and intentions we need on a daily basis.
And forgive us our debts Allow us to feel your acceptance in spite of the errors of our ways.
As we also forgive our debtors This can only be if we likewise adopt an accepting attitude towards others who do us wrong.
And do not lead us into temptation We remember that we need to go through testing states of envy, deceit, hate, adultery, and so on to learn spiritual lessons for our lasting good.
But deliver us from evil We pray we may reject these self-centred states in your strength.
For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory For from you alone comes all that is deeply true, good and wonderful.
For ever For always.
Amen So be it.
“If they are wholly celestial and spiritual things about which and for which he prays, something like a revelation is present within his prayer which manifests itself in the affection of the one praying in the form of hope, comfort, or some inward joy.” (Emanuel Swedenborg, 18th century mystical theologian)
Copyright 2018 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems
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