While we may acknowledge a need and desire for prayer within ourselves, sometimes, praying itself is a challenge. Finding the time and space –let alone quiet– can be a task in itself, not to mention cultivating focus and connection.
“There is no bad way to pray. There is no one starting point for prayer,” writes Fr. Ronald Rolheiser, a priest with the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, in his book Prayer: Our Deepest Longing. “All the great spiritual masters offer only one non-negotiable rule: you have to show up for prayer and you have to show up regularly. Everything else is negotiable and respects your unique circumstances.”
1. Try the Examen
Sometimes, getting into the routine of prayer is the hard part. The examen provides both a set time to pray (at night before bed) and a short formula for the prayer itself. The examen is a five-step prayer that includes petition, gratitude, reflection, rejoicing, and seeking forgiveness.
“It’s incredibly simple,” Shannon Evans, spiritual writer, writes. “But it causes me to realize how much of my days go unprocessed, ultimately pulling me further from love of God and neighbor. If you’re feeling run over by life and in need of handrails to walk you back to your Spirit center, I can’t recommend this enough.
2. Focus on Gratitude
“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough,” Meister Eckhart said.
Don’t know where to start with praying? “Thank you” is a great place. Chances are, you have lots to be grateful for, and lots of reasons to say “thank you” over and over again. Consider keeping a gratitude journal, praying in gratitude each evening, or intentionally taking time to stop and utter a prayer of thanks when you experience gratitude during the day.
For inspiration, here’s a list of things to be grateful for today, beyond the standard family/job/shelter (though we should be grateful for those gifts, too!).
3. Cultivate Silence
As Sister Nancy Sylvester, IHM put it: “Silence is God’s first language.” Sitting in silence and stillness, then, and focusing only on breath or even a specific word is important in deepening one’s spirituality.
Granted, finding silence is tough. It may require you to wake up a little earlier, or to set aside intentional time to sit without access to a phone or others. For some, it helps to turn the lights off and find God in the darkness.
If you’re not able to find silence, try praying while you drive or while you cook. It doesn’t have to be a long stretch: five minutes is a good starting point, and you can always increase the length of prayer from there.
4. Break out the Crayons
Admittedly, once you’ve found silence, sitting in stillness can be challenging. According to Dominican Sister of Hope Donna Brunell, OP, intentional movement, such as doodling or coloring, can actually help to focus during prayer and be more mindful.
“Being creative fosters a connection with God as Creator and Imagineer,” Sister Donna says. “When I am creating art, I feel peaceful and contemplative.”
If you are able to focus more while doodling or drawing, invite that practice into your prayer life. Mandalas involve intricacy and repetition while contributing to a greater drawing. There are also options for coloring in Bible verses or Bible images. As you trace the holy words, allow each to come alive inside of you while you fill it with color on the page. Concentrate on its meaning, its intention, its connection to the words around it, and its place in your heart. Find samples and more ideas here.
5. Incorporate Movement
Although some believe that yoga detracts from God, many of our sisters assign Catholic verses to movement and use the practice to grow in deeper holiness. Whether it’s yoga, tai-chi, a walk outside, interpretative movement, or another practice, take advantage of using your body to pray.
“I firmly believe that God made us body,” Dominican Sister of Hope Janet Marchesani, O.P. explains. “We are embodied people. Therefore, when we pray, why not use our bodies? When you get excited, your whole body comes alive. Why can’t you bring that to God?”
Sister Janet remembers leading a workshop on movement during prayer in which a middle-school student reached her hands to the sky while saying “Lord, have mercy.”
“It was one of the deepest, most beautiful prayers I’ve ever experienced,” Sister Janet shares.
When you’re alone and have some physical space to move around, take some time to assign movement to the words of your prayer. You may be surprised by the depth it brings.
6. Try Writing
For Dominican Sister of Hope Connie Kelly, O.P., writing poetry is part of her prayer. She says that all of her written words are from God, making poetry a blend of a creative and religious experience.
If you enjoy writing, consider writing poetry to express your heart’s desires or to paint an image of your God. If you’re not a poet, there are other ways to use written word in prayer. Bible journaling (PitterandGlink has a tutorial that’s especially beautiful) is another way to focus on meaningful words or phrases and meditate on them. Try writing or painting a favorite psalm and repeat it as a conversation with God.
7. Start Now.
There are even more steps we can take to help us focus more on prayer. But, like any good habit, the only sure way to improve your prayer life is to get started. Set your alarm for the morning or night, and make a resolution to start. Whether you’re praying for others, praying with your body, praying in stillness or praying in the dark, the important part is that you pray. And, there’s never a better time than right now.
May your Lent be a season of contemplation, connection, and deeper holiness.
This post is part of our Lenten Series. Find a full archive of our posts on Lent here.