My Personal Prayer Style and Preferences

This week’s Revisited is Part 1 of 2 (which appears here). I wrote this in June of 2004 at the beginning of a prayer styles workshop, which was part of spiritual formation during my studies at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology.

Photo by Susan Fischbach Isaacs

My prayer style is so casual that I often wonder if I have an adequate prayer life, let alone the right prayer style. Maybe I’ll learn that means my prayer style doesn’t fit for me.

I have no formal or set prayer routine aside from public worship, but while I tend not to gravitate to formulaic prayer, its long connection to Tradition and to the living universal Church is meaningful and important to me. While my mind may wander during a particular reading or prayer, it is often not the words I’m hearing but the connectedness I feel that is the most prayerful part of this kind of prayer experience. Reciting the same Creed from 1500 year ago, celebrating the Last Supper as the Lord himself did — the lineage of the actions sometimes speaks to me more strongly than the here and now experience. We, as Catholics, have a powerful connection to the universal Church, not only of the world today but through time.

This past Lent, in honor of my grandma who was dying, I resolved to pray the daily office as I had seen her do for so many years. Doing this I felt a great connection to her and to Tradition, and it was tremendously comforting at the time of her death (it was amazing how the readings fit the situation in the last few days of her life). Praying the daily office also became a link to my grandma’s sister, whom I’ve never known well but with whom I developed a connection during the time we spent in prayer at Grandma’s bedside. Without a sense of immediate connection, however, I did not sustain what I had hoped would be a new habit for long after Easter. I tend to think I’m in a hurry and end up just going through the motions more than really praying from the heart. This disappoints me, but I have failed to hold myself accountable for it.

A style that has worked for me in the past is to write my prayers. Writing keeps me focused and slows my mind, which tends to wander in contemplative prayer. Taking the time to write forces me to take the time to think and be more purposeful about my prayers. It also helps me see how God has been working my life as I look back on past weeks. Although I know it feels good, I have resisted going back to writing my prayers again because I tell myself I have no time, which really isn’t true.

The style I most often use now is just to try to stay aware of where God is in my life. Throughout the day I talk to Him in bursts of a few seconds to make an observation, a request, or to say thank you; and each evening as I’m settling into bed I also try to look back through my day, and ahead to the next, and talk to God about what’s going on in my life. What I’m lacking in this style, I realize, is listening for His answers.

I am keenly aware of times in my life when things felt so right that I knew I was attuned to the guidance of the Holy Spirit in that moment in time, and I’m learning to recognize these moments more often as they are happening and not only in retrospect. In the same way I’m becoming aware when things don’t feel right, when it seems I’m working too hard to get the result I want. Often when I persevere in these situations, I don’t feel accomplishment, but instead disappointment in myself, when I finally get what I thought I wanted.

The idea of my life being a prayer both appeals to me and scares me. In my deepest heart I wish for my life to reflect my faith in every moment, every decision I make being filtered through the eyes of reflecting God’s love for the world. Every moment would then feel right. The truth is, though, that I so often choose not what feels right but what instead seems easy, that I shudder to think of those times as a response to God’s call in my life.

In summary, I’ve tried various styles of prayer, but have stopped short of embracing any one style for the long term. I tend to resist what seems too formulaic or scheduled, but I do need some form of structure to keep me on track.