Recently, Maggie asked me to speak on the subject of prayer at Confirmation Prep Of course I agreed to. Prayer is one of my favorite things to talk about.
Then she told me I had Five Minutes.
For the generation now being raised on sound bytes, this made perfect sense, of course. So I chose to make the most of it and hit the subject of prayer hard in five pithy segments. In other words, Five Ways to Pray in Five Minutes. And I used the opportunity to move away from the automatic assumptions we typically make about what prayer is and the right way to do it.
We started with a basic premise from the Psalms. "One thing have I heard, two things have I understood: That You, O God, are strong, and that You, O God, are loving." If God is not both strong and loving, we're in deep trouble. If God is only strong and doesn't love us, that's just unlimited power for either good or harm. If God is only loving and not powerful, then God is unable to help us.
2. "God come to my assistance. O Lord, make haste to help me." This is a quick prayer found in the Psalms that Monastics use as an entry into deeper prayer. Quick to memorize, too.
3. Practice the Presence of God. This is the prayer practice of Brother Lawrence, who was assigned to cook in the monastery for fifteen years. More than three hundred years ago, with no paper plates and no microwave, cooking for a community of Monks whose job in life was to pray, took a great deal of time. I imagine that he rose early to build a fire, cooked breakfast, and soon as the dishes were done, began preparing the midday meal. By the time he cleaned up after lunch, it was time to think about the evening meal.
Brother Lawrence felt the same call to pray as his brothers, but was stuck in the kitchen. He began to discover that he could pray while he did his work. Out of that grew the discipline of turning his attention to God in a constant way throughout the day.
4. Intellect and Imagination. This is about possibilities. Whenever I get a new idea, I like to sit in my favorite chair with my journal, ready to jot down whatever enters my mind. I ask God to fill my imagination with creative ideas. I ask lots of questions, like, "What stuff do I need?" "Who would be good at this?" "What are the necessary steps?" and "What do I need to know that I already know?" I jot down the ideas as they come to me, and try to make connections between things as I think and write.
5. Arrow Prayers. These are the quick prayers we pray when we feel we don't have time to pray. The idea is based on the experience of the Old Testament character, Nehemiah. Nehemiah lived in exile, and served as the king's cupbearer. Nehemiah learned that his home town, Jerusalem, lay in ruins, and got an idea for rebuilding the city, beginning with the city wall. The idea, it turns out, was from God.
The problem was, Nehemiah was basically a slave, and now lived several hundred miles away. He began to fast and pray. He prayed constantly until he felt the time was right to ask permission to return to Jerusalem.
When Nehemiah was granted permission and arrived back in Jerusalem to begin work on the wall, he faced a lot of opposition. But he put his plan in place and started the work. Throughout the rest of the story, every time his enemies ridiculed his workers and try to stop the work, Nehemiah sent up arrow prayers to God for help, and every time received the help he needed. He no longer stopped for long periods to pray because the work was urgent. The reason the arrow prayers "worked" is because Nehemiah had already laid a foundation of prayer prior to starting. He operated out of a relationship of trust in God to achieve his desired goal.