We need to deepen our own personal prayer lives.
— The Most Reverend Wilton D. Gregory, S.L.D., Archbishop of Atlanta
Recently the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta published a Pastoral Plan, the result of much prayer, conversation and discernment. In the words of the Archbishop, it’s a plan “that will guide our Archdiocese for the next five years.”
You can download a PDF of the plan here. It covers a variety of initiatives and needs, under three topics: “Knowing our faith,” “Living our faith,” and “Spreading/Keeping our faith.” When I read the plan, I was thrilled to see one of the initiatives is to “Encourage a deeper personal prayer life.”
Yes! That’s an initiative I fully support.
Now the Pastoral Plan doesn’t provide specifics for making this happen. In fact, it only has one sentence devoted to this topic: “We need to deepen our own personal prayer lives.”
The Archbishop writes, “This document focuses on ‘what’ we must do. There are many details that will be worked out regarding ‘how’ we will move forward.”
So my friends, in response to this call, which is not just for Atlanta but I believe relevant to Christians everywhere, to “deepen our personal prayer lives,” I’d like to offer five initial thoughts on the “how” — how we can begin to do just that.
Five Ways You Can Deepen Your Personal Prayer Life:
- Read the Bible every day (Lectio Divina). Lectio Divina is different from “Bible Study” — it’s a slow, meditative way of reading the Bible, to allow the words to speak to your heart in a quiet and prayerful way. You can learn more about it here.
- Pray a Psalm every day. A long term goal for monastic oblates and other serious pray-ers is to pray all or part of the Daily Office. But for beginners that may seem daunting. A gentler way to start: pray one Psalm each day. Most can be prayed in about 2 minutes, so it’s not a huge time commitment — but it’s a great way to anchor your daily prayer life.
- Try to find (and serve) God through others, every day. Prayer is more than just saying prayers! The purpose of prayer is to foster intimacy with God, and scripture reminds us that when we serve others, we serve Christ. So whether it’s a work of mercy like feeding the homeless, or simply a good deed like helping an elderly lady carry her groceries to the bus stop, look for ways to be kind to others — and see such acts as embodied prayers.
- Take time to reflect on a spiritual truth, every time. Traditionally this is called “mental prayer” or “meditation” but you don’t need the fancy labels to enjoy this rich way of praying. St. Luke reminds us of how Mary would ponder things in her heart in regard to Jesus. We can do the same thing — and it’s prayer. So take some time to ponder a spiritual truth: God is love; God is merciful; God forgives; God wants us to love our neighbors, and so forth. But don’t just think pious thoughts — keep in mind that such times of reflection nourish us because God is always present.
- Spend some time in silence every day. Finally comes the crown of daily prayer: silent prayer, or contemplation. This, at heart, is simply a wordless gaze of love into the unseen face of God. Catholics love this kind of silence in an adoration chapel, but it can be just as prayerful (and meaningful) in your living room, or your garden, or any other quiet, undistracted place.
Of course, there are many other doorways into a deeper prayer life: the Rosary, the Mass, intercessory prayer, or confession, to name just a few. My five suggestions are not meant to be exhaustive, but rather I hope you will find them encouraging and inspirational. And for readers who aren’t Catholic, I hope you’ll still consider these prayer practices: they can be meaningful for all kinds of Christians.
Pray every day. That might be the single most important way to deepen our prayer life. If you only have ten minutes a day for prayer, then give it ten minutes. But do it every day. Prayer is a blessing that unfolds gently over time.