There is no doubt that we are in the midst of a violent storm, in the world around us, and in our own private spheres.
We wake up to another terrorist attack or senseless shooting. We face a crisis of trust in our leaders.
Our faith is under siege. Believers face ridicule and rejection, and for some, martyrdom.
Sickness and death surround us. We witness children in poverty dying of starvation around the world. We encounter suffering, death and grief among our own families and friends.
In the midst of these storms, do you find it difficult to pray?
I find these words from Romans 8:26 helpful:
“In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”
It no longer matters that I can’t find my own words--
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We can begin with prayers we learned from childhood. Praying the Lord’s Prayer and the Hail Mary, word for word, and contemplating their meaning, does much to take our groanings to a deeper level. There is, in fact a book that does just that for the Hail Mary called Word by Word, edited by Sarah A. Reinhard. It literally provides a brief meditation for each word of the prayer. You’d be surprised how much you can learn from the word “the.”
The Divine Office, prayed each day by our clergy, is a wealth of words, mostly taken from scripture. If you find the format hard to master, you can listen to it at http://divineoffice.org.
For a time I prayed a psalm each morning until I had worked my way through the entire book. They addressed so many of my feelings. I imagined Jesus praying these psalms and often I could see his story within the words.
The singing of sacred hymns is especially consoling. I have an old hymnal and sing songs to myself, offering them as prayer. Singing truly is praying twice.
And during those times when the groanings pour over me in billows, God still provides through the prayers of family and friends. All I need do is ask.
It is true that familiarity breeds contempt, even with prayer. Maybe especially with prayer. How can something we've recited so many times still stir the heart and fill the soul? Can the meaning be restored?
My husband, a deacon, recites the same prayers every morning from the Divine Office (from the Eastern Catholic Church). He has been doing this for seven years. I marveled at how he found meaning in this repetitive action.
On the surface it appeared to be a monotonous chore. To him it was sublime. But I had reached a point in my life where I could no longer come up with my own words and I decided to give it a try.
I proceeded to create my own prayer corner, a sacred space in our bedroom, decorated with icons and a candle. Using a prayer book that my husband's bishop had created for lay people, I began the daily practice of chanting the Orthros (Morning Prayer) from the Eastern Catholic Church. Sometimes I do Vespers or the Compline at the end of the day.
There was something comforting about praying texts, many from scripture, or written by people recognized as saints. I knew the prayers would be centered on God rather than on me. They would lead me to a place of truth and humility with regards to my failings. And I would pray for others, even for those who had passed on before me.
And yes, keeping up with this routine proved to be challenging. But I was to discover that faithfulness to duty can bear a rich fruit. Just ask Mother Teresa--she dealt with spiritual desolation for over fifty years and yet she never wavered in her devotion to prayer and her work. I lean on her when I don't feel like being faithful.
I started this regimen back in March and it is still going strong. Each time I recite the now familiar prayers, some word or phrase will touch my mind or heart and I will pause for a moment and think on it.
My cat, Jenny, insists on sitting in my lap each time I pray. She loves hearing me sing (along with the warm lap), and settles right in. I stroke her, and I pray. And it puts me in the eye of the storm.
And I no longer concern myself with my own words.
p.s. Another great book is coming out this month with daily devotions for Catholic moms with contributions from eighty Catholicmom contributors. I am pleased and humbled to be in that group and am eager to see my copy of The Catholic Mom's Prayer Companion A Book of Daily Reflections, edited by Lisa M. Hendey and Sarah A. Reinhard and part of the Catholicmom.com book series. The wisdom in this book can aid you in your prayer life when you can't find your own words.
Copyright 2016 Susan W. Bailey
About the Author
Susan Bailey is the author of River of Grace: Creative Passages Through Difficult Times (Ave Maria Press), and Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by The Message (ACTA Publications), part of their Literary Portals to Prayer series. Along with her blogs Be as One and Louisa May Alcott is My Passion, Susan writes for the Diocese of Worcester newspaper, The Catholic Free Press.