Monday, August 24, 2009

Teach Us To Pray

In the Christian scriptures, the book of Luke (11:1), there is a record of an exchange between Jesus and his disciples. It says, "One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples." In virtually every religious tradition we humans have created to help us wrestle and dance with Life's Big Questions someone at some time asks a question like this.

The friend I wrote about on Monday, who said he envied my belief in God, asked me why I would pray if I didn't think the God I prayed to could come in and save me when things got tough. I told him that, at the very least, it was for the same reason I talked to my parents, or to my good friends, or even to myself, sometimes. Doing so helps me to clarify my own thinking and feeling about things, and it opens me to receive whatever wisdom they have to share. That's the why, but we never got around to the question of how I do it.

Back in 2005 the fine people at Skinner House Books published my second book, Simply Pray: a modern spiritual practice to deepen your life. This book is my attempt to explore prayer freed from any particular theological or religious understandings, to get at something of an underlying architecture if you will upon which a person could build her or his own prayer practice. I wanted -- for my own sake as well as for the people I was ministering to and with -- to develop a prayer practice that was solidly grounded in the spiritual traditions of the religions of the world yet which was also not dependent on adherence to any one of them. This book has also recently spawned a website -- PrayingToday -- through which I hope to continue to explore it's ideas.

The heart of the book is a prayer bead practice I developed while I was doing my chaplaincy training, a practice which incorporates what I believe to be the four fundamental types of prayer found in every religious traditions, as well as the two primary prayer forms. As we're coming up on the fifth anniversary of the publication of Simply Pray I find myself wanting to revisit some of this material, and so I'm planning to dedicate this blog each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday over the next several weeks to a step-by-step exegesis, if you will, of the practice.
The picture above is of my own set of prayer beads. A metaphor that works for me is that this practice takes you on a journey through prayer. Or, perhaps, a journey via prayer. It begins with the largest bead (the one with the face), and that's where we'll begin on Friday.

In Gassho,

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