Praying daily helps us to develop a spiritual rhythm. A discipline of prayer creates new habits of heart and mind, and changes the way that we think about our lives, And it is a discipline. Prayer can be difficult at times, just like keeping fit, being on a diet, or keeping weeds down in the garden.
Little and often is best. No prayer is ever wasted. The important thing is to start where you are, and to keep going. It is better to start small and form a regular habit, then build that up, than to take on too much. Even five minutes a day praying the Lord’s Prayer is good. Or a longer period once a week might fit your schedule better.
Jesus prayed at different times in the day. The psalms were his prayer book, and he often quoted from them. In Psalm 55 we read “I call upon God, and the Lord will save me. Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and he will hear my voice.” (Psalm 55:16-17; NRSV) The Didache, an anonymous first century treatise also known as The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, said that early Christians should say the Lord’s Prayer three times a day. Other early sources speak of two-fold, three-fold, and five-fold daily prayers.
Psalm 119 goes further: “Seven times a day I praise you…” and “At midnight I rise to praise you, because of your righteous ordinances. (Psalm 119:164,62; NRSV) Religious communities of monks and nuns took this example literally, and turned it into a structure for praying through the day. The short services during the day and night are called the Daily Office, and are based on the Bible and especially the Psalms.
This is probably a bit ambitious in normal daily life! But praying in a supportive group can still be helpful to get going and keep going with prayer. If you are praying by yourself, it is good to know that many others are praying the same prayers.
The Church of England Daily Prayer services are designed so that they can be said by individuals or in a group.
There are four services at different times of day: Morning Prayer, Prayer During the Day, Evening Prayer, and Night Prayer (often known as Compline). You can also choose between modern and traditional language. Or you can use the Daily Prayer app.
Sacred Space, from the Jesuits, was probably the first daily prayer resource available online, offered since 1999. It is an invitation to make a sacred space in your day, praying with the help of scripture chosen every day and on-screen guidance.
Pray As You Go, also from the Jesuits, is a daily prayer session designed to help you pray at any time, but particularly whilst travelling to and from work or study. It is a framework for your own prayer, combining music, scripture and questions for reflection.
Using an app to pray is not for everyone, but for some of us it’s what we need or prayer wouldn’t happen at all. One word of advice to help you avoid distractions: always choose an app that takes up the entire screen and hides all notifications, and turn of your device’s sound.
If you need a reminder to pray, it might be helpful to have an email ping into your mailbox. The Center for Action and Contemplation offers daily emails with a meditation by Fr Richard for every day of the year. Alternatively, if it works better for you, you can choose to receive weekly emails every Saturday, with a summary of the week’s meditations.
“For all that has been, Thanks. To all that shall be, Yes.” – Dag Hammarskjöld
The Examen is a way of reflecting prayerfully on your day. It was originally developed by St Ignatius of Loyola in the Spiritual Exercises. It can be a very short prayer, or a period of longer reflection. It can prayed at any time, but is often prayed last thing at night.
The reflections can take many different forms.
For example, you might like to look back on your day and find three things you are grateful for. They can be large or small. Sometimes this can show the day’s events in a different light. Or you could find five things that have brought you joy. Again, they may be tiny, like a smile in the street. Alternatively, you could be aware of and reflect on these moments as they occur during the day.
The Jesuit priest William Barry suggests this practice. Cast your mind over the day; notice the moment in the day that provoke the strongest inner response, whether joy, anger, compassion, or sorrow. Have a conversation with God about where God might be in that moment and what God might be telling you through your feelings.
Another practice is to reflect on five themes and note one thing that gave you energy; one that drained your energy; one that brought you life; one that drained life; and one thing that brought you sorrow. Life and energy are not the same. For example, going for a long walk can bring life but drain energy; getting really angry can energise but drain life.
Whichever practice you choose, start with a period of silence, to let go of your immediate concerns and still yourself. It’s usually helpful to write down your reflections, whether or not you ever re-read them. (Although re-reading them can give you a sense of how God is working in your life journey.) Finish by offering your reflections back to God, and if you are praying the Examen at the end of the day, placing tomorrow in God’s hands. Then sleep well!
The Examen lends itself well to the app format, helping you to pray whenever and wherever you are. The Reimagining the Examen app is based on St Ignatius’ Exercises. It breaks the Examen down into five steps and offers many different themed reflections. For those that are paralysed by choice, you can stick to the allotted reflection for the day. Or you might appreciate the ability to tailor your Examen to your mood or situation that day.
The Examen Prayer App is also based on St Ignatius, with one path through the steps. It reminds you to pray the Examen daily, and also includes a journal
Praying with the Bible
“Whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” – Matthew 6:6; NRSV
The Bible has been used for centuries as a fruitful way into prayer. The practices suggested below are ancient, and have stood the test of time. Many people still use them today, both individually and in groups. Either can be helpful if you have spent a lot of time in study and now want to deepen your encounter with scripture, or perhaps you struggle a bit with the Bible’s content and want a different way in.
It is good to have a Bible passage organised in advance, rather than spend your precious prayer time casting around for something appropriate. You might like to choose the Gospel reading for the day.
The pattern of imaginative Ignatian meditation was developed by St Ignatius of Loyola in the sixteenth century. St Ignatius was convinced that God can speak to us through our imaginations as well as our thoughts and memories. Ignatian meditation is particularly suited to the Gospels. In your mind’s eye, you can place yourself in the events of Jesus’ life – sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and feelings – and open yourself to God’s communication with you in a personal, evocative way.
Find out more about how we pray with our imaginations, and some example Gospel-based meditations.
If you struggle with imagining Bible scenes, you can try Lectio Divina (divine reading). Its origins lie in the third to fourth centuries, and it was popularised from the sixth century by the monastic communities that lived under the Rule of St Benedict.
It involves the four simple steps of slow reading of a piece of scripture, meditation on the passage, prayer about what arises, and a time of silent adoration. Slow reading is key. As Fr Christopher Jamison, former Abbot of Worth Abbey in Sussex, wrote in his book Finding Sanctuary: “the text is seen as a gift to be received, not a problem to be dissected….. let the text come to you.”
Praying with the Imagination
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.” – Luke 10:27
Imagining yourself into a Bible passage, as described above, is one way of praying with your imagination. There are many others.
Anthony de Mello was a Jesuit priest deeply immersed in both Ignatian prayer and in eastern styles of meditation. His books “Sadhana: A Way to God” and “Wellsprings: A Book of Spiritual Exercises” consist of a series of Christian spiritual exercises that teach for example awareness of physical sensations, stillness, healing of hurtful memories, and consciousness of self and world.
The audio book is also available to buy, and it may be more helpful to listen as your pray rather than picking up the book from time to time. Alternatively, you may prefer to record your own versions of the meditations that suit your own pace.
Bruce Duncan in his book Pray Your Way describes ‘Yellow Prayer’ as a butterfly prayer. Sit for a while and let your imagination go, allowing it to freewheel through free association and metaphor, making connections and gaining flashes of insight which aren’t necessarily obvious. Sometimes it is simply joyful. Sometimes the butterfly might alight for a longer time on an issue that requires addressing. Sometimes it can be deeply contemplative.
“Be still, and know that I am God!” – Psalm 46:10; NRSV
Contemplative prayer is one of those terms that can have different meanings. Here we are referring to a way of prayer that frees the mind of all thoughts in order to encounter the living God. (You may have noticed that people who practise Ignatian meditation think of contemplation as an active way of praying that engages the mind and heart and stirs up thoughts and emotions.)
Part of being any relationship is paying attention to the other. In the same way, Christian prayer is not just about asking God for things, but making space to simply ‘be’ in God’s presence. Contemplation is not the same as mindfulness or other modern forms of meditation. The key difference is the intention, not self-development or focusing the mind on the task in hand, but paying attention to God.
We humans cannot grasp or experience our Creator, except in that God makes Godself known. So in contemplative prayer we place ourselves at an interior threshold, waiting on God to draw us into encounter. Lectio Divina, as described above, can be one way of placing ourselves at this threshold, and there are other ways that different people find helpful in preparing themselves to receive the gift of God.
Centring Prayer was developed and taught by the Trappist monk Fr Thomas Keating in his book “Open Mind, Open Heart”. You choose a single sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within. As you pray, you silently introduce the sacred word once as the symbol of your consent, and continue in silent loving attention for about 20 minutes. If you are distracted by your thoughts, return gently to the sacred word.
Find out more about Centring Prayer and world-wide contacts for groups.
The World Community of Christian Meditation was founded in London by the Benedictine monk Fr John Main. His teaching about prayer is in his book “Word Into Silence”. It differs slightly from Centring Prayer, using the Christian prayer-word ‘Maranatha’ as a mantra to focus the mind’s attention while the soul encounters God in the depths.
Praying in Nature
“The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” – Gerard Manley Hopkins
The ninth century Irish theologian John Scotus Eriugena wrote that “God speaks to us through two books: the ‘little book’ of Scripture and the ‘big book’ of creation.” Just as we prayerfully ponder the words of the Bible, so we are invited to pay attention to the life of creation as an ongoing, living utterance of God.
Children have an innate sense of wonder, which it’s never to late to rediscover. Some of our earliest memories of life may well have been of creation speaking: lying on our backs in the grass gazing up into the infinity of the sky; or suddenly noticing the glory of a double rainbow. You can simply take time to notice things around you.
The Quiet Garden Movement was inspired by Jesus’ example of withdrawing to natural places to pray. It nurtures access to outdoor space for prayer and reflection in a variety of settings, such as private homes, churches, retreat centres, schools and hospitals.
Retreats and Quiet Days
“Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” – Mark 6.31; NRSV
Taking time out to be with God is essential for healthy living. This can be through regular short prayer times, observing a sabbath day of rest, and taking time away from the busy-ness of daily life so that we can re-order our lives in the direction of God.
A quiet day or a longer residential retreat is the chance to step aside from life for a while, to rest and just ‘be’ in a welcoming, peaceful place. Retreats are for ordinary people at any time in their lives. There are no expectations.
A retreat may be led by someone who gives food for thought in a programme of talks, or be individually guided when someone meets with you for a period each day, or may simply be a time away from the pressures of everyday life and entirely DIY. It may be spent in complete silence or have times of quiet and times of conversation.
There are a number of retreat centres close to Exeter, including the Sheldon Community, Mill House, Buckfast Abbey, Hilfield Priory, Lee Abbey and Brunel Manor.
If you are looking further afield, you can try the Retreat Association.
Many people stay with religious communities, as they provide a way of slotting into the daily rhythm of prayer, and members of the community often provide individual guidance. There are many Anglican communities that provide hospitality listed in the Retreats Handbook.
For those who cannot afford the time or money for a retreat, a retreat in daily life may be more suitable. The prayer and reflection take place with the context of ordinary daily living.
“Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:11
Spiritual Accompaniment, also known as Spiritual Direction, is a process of accompanying or being accompanied by someone on a journey of a deepening relationship with God.
Find out more information through The Diocese of Exeter. It operates a Spiritual Direction Referral Service, open to all in Devon, to put those who seek accompaniment in touch with those who offer this ministry.
The Diocese also provides more information about how to become a Spiritual Director, and good practice in Spiritual Direction.