St Anthony of the Desert

Orthodox Christian Mission

Las Cruces, New Mexico

Fr Gabriel

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The ABC’s of Prayer

When you go on an extended vacation as we did recently, you have to think carefully about how to pack. Specifically you have to learn how little you need to be both comfortable and also prepared. Over the years we have learned to carry as little baggage as necessary. I hope this applies to all of my life, by the way.

I thought about this concept in relation to prayer. How little do we need in order to be able to make a discipline for ourselves? This is not about cutting corners; it’s about finding the level of comfort and preparation that will enable you to pray on a regular and sustained basis. Here are some thoughts.

Many years ago, when I was in graduate school, I asked a professor of practical theology how he thought you could aid a congregation to grow in the faith. I’ve never forgotten the answer he gave, in words heavily tinged with his German accent: “Well, first you teach the ABCs and then you go on to teach the ABCs.” You get the point: basics remain essential. So the point is: Keep it simple. We are always beginners.

Let A stand for “abbreviated,” to mean a short amount of time. My wife Susan is among the thousands of fans of FlyLady, who has a website dedicated to assisting people to deal with the clutter in their lives. FlyLady’s basic rule of de-cluttering is “you can do anything for fifteen minutes.” So the point is: keep it short or abbreviated, but keep that prayer time. Take five minutes or ten, but take them.

Let B stand for “basic” or simple, in terms of what you say. Try “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,” and with each repetition add some short intercession like “and remember my mother, ____. “ You can be basic in the content of your prayer. Most prayer is essentially twofold: intercession and thanksgiving. “Gratitude is the heart of prayer,” as Brother David Steindl-Rast wrote in his book of the same name, and it’s true. From that heart proceeds our concern for the world, beginning with those around you.

Let C stand for “consistency,” meaning a disciplined way. Choose a time to do it, whether in the morning or the afternoon or at evening, but strive for consistency.  You might find a time during the day when you are occupied with some other task that does not require all your mental energy and use that for prayer. I cycle almost every day, and often I am a lone rider. Once I get into the rhythm of cycling, I turn to prayer. I am amazed at how much ground I cover in my prayer while I’m covering ground on my bicycle.

Many tasks can become prayer themselves if you devote yourself fully to them, and enter into them as spiritual disciplines. I always enjoyed washing dishes as a form of prayer. Cutting vegetables is another one. Gardening, especially weeding, can be a time for prayer. Susan used the second rinse cycle on our washer, which had to be monitored, as a prayer time.

That’s it: A stands for abbreviated time; it doesn’t have to be long to be heartfelt. B stands for basic words and patterns; don’t get flustered trying to say what you want. C stands for consistency, to use the same time or the same activity for your prayer.

Our prayers relate to the corporate prayer of the church, which carries forth, binds together, and offers up all our individual petitions. May your prayer life be blessed!

printed 07 August 09