Sunday, October 11, 2015

Five Modes of Prayer

It is often remarked that the greatest perk of teaching is the hours, but for my part the choice perk is working in a building with a chapel. The school chapel, like many, is most often devoid of people. Its side chapels remember the muttered masses and prayers of days gone by. The symbols of the stained glass illuminate the litany of saints for the passerby, with the pierced mitre of St. Thomas à Becket shining through to my favorite pew. Like most moderns, I never learned how to pray. Of course I learned to sit quietly and to say the words with good diligence, but I never discovered the disposition until my routine of daily prayers before work. After some years I realized in praying I would fall into one of several predictable patterns.

In the first way I pray the words as a mantra, not so much even focusing on the words themselves as simply saying them without interruption and without letting my mind drift to anything in particular. When praying like this, the act itself is the focus. It sets one apart from the world, blotting out all distractions external and internal.

Its opposite is the second mode, in which I reflect on every word of the prayer. When praying this way I tend to do so quite slowly, thinking on the associations, images, meanings, and implications of each word. Though I don't pray this way so often, I am always surprised by the manner and consistency with which the words reveal themselves excite the spirit.

Sometimes, though, I do not pray a traditional formulation but take the liberty of indulging my mind and formulating my requests or intentions in my own words. This takes two forms. In the third, I pay detailed, even excruciating attention to the formulation. As such, the prayer is in part an act of inquiry, for man's thoughts are seldom clear until they are expressed. How often do I struggle to find the words, stop to correct myself, or realize the foolishness of the request. It is often only by praying in this way that I understand for what I must ask.

After such prayers of considering, the fourth mode is the refined, simple request. Finally, I pray in thanks. This is no refined system or approved model, but it has served me. It could be summed up simply:
  1. Separate from the world
  2. Reflect on the sacred
  3. Know yourself
  4. Ask
  5. Give thanks

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