Haven’t a prayer… (Alpha week 4)

Week 4 is titled “Why and how do I pray”. The speaker gave a largely personal account, which I thoroughly approve of. OK, there was stress on involving the whole trinity, which I can understand but which to my mind gives you far too much to think about before you even get started. There wasn’t much stress on tangible results (” Oh lord, won’t you buy me a Mercecedes Benz…”) thank goodness, as I think there are all sorts of problems in taking some of the passages that suggest that whatever you pray for (in the right way…) you will get, such as Matt. 18:19 or John 14:13-14 – the first was mentioned, the second not. We also didn’t touch too much on the list of excuses for a literal interpretation of those passages actually not happening most of the time, as given in the Alpha manual. The speaker did say that when she prayed, coincidences happened. They do indeed. Granted, coincidences happen when you don’t pray as well, and I’m well enough aware of my own internal confirmation bias not to want to advance any personal evidence myself.

There wasn’t much stress on the ACTS formulation either (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication). Actually, I think this is a pretty fair formula. Some while ago a good friend told me how much he liked the Great Litany , which I’m not all that familiar with, despite hanging around a few fairly “high” churches in the past. I told him I thought it was a bit long, and he asked what I’d put in it’s place…

“Hey, Boss; Wow!; Sorry; Thanks; Help!; Whatever…”

He agreed that it was, indeed, shorter!

OK, that’s the outline, now fill in the specifics.

I talked a little about not wanting to ask for specifics, not only because I was unconvinced they’d be granted but also because I valued so much the second S which I’d add to ACTS – submission. I said my favorite and very much most used prayer was the Serenity Prayer – “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”. Of course, that doesn’t conform to the ACTS formula, but it’s big on submission. “Not my will but thine be done, O Lord” ends any prayer I make which actually asks for something.

Prayer is mandated as a continuing activity in Step 11 of AA’s Twelve Steps – “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understand him, praying only for knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry that out”, but I considered it valuable for exactly that purpose a long time before I had read it in a twelve step programme. Yes, I considered it valuable as one of very many spiritual practices which I explored in my early attempts to find a way of repeating the overwhelming “conscious contact with God” which kicked me off some 45 years ago. But, in conscience, though I generally pray (by myself and silently) quite a bit, I’ve only for fairly brief periods had a formal routine of prayer. I suspect I should; there was certainly a period of my life during which I lost the habit of pausing and praying for guidance and inspiration many times a day, and that may well have contributed to the fact that these days I mostly lack the instant feeling of response and presence which I once got used to. And, of course, took for granted. A big mistake, I think.

I will try to do better…

I didn’t mention special techniques such as lectio divina and Ignatian visualisatory prayer. I use a form of the first frequently. The second, I don’t counsel unless you have a spiritual director, which I don’t at present, but it can be extremely powerful. Possibly too advanced for this kind of group, at least in week 4? I did slide in a comment that telling the rosary can be viewed as a form of mantra yoga – Hindus and Buddhists have no monopoly on this kind of technique!

There was one slight sidetrack in the discussion, which I’ll talk about in another post. Suffice it to say that something I said gave another member of the group a new and energising insight. I give thanks that I was able to do this. It makes me appreciate the worth of doing this so much more.


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