This post is modified from the introduction of the Liberti Church Lent 2020 Prayerbook.
Lent begins today. Historically, Christians have used three broad categories of practices in this season: fasting, prayer, and generosity. Yesterday, I gave some ideas for fasting. Today, I want to talk about prayer. (Here’s the generosity post.)
Prayer is most often characterized “talking with God”. However, there is a more implicit strand through the Scriptures and Christian history that invites us to see prayer as much bigger than verbal, discursive spiritual engagement.
Prayer can be a general posture in life, an awareness of God and a maintaining of connection with God’s Spirit in you. It can be the repeating of structured liturgical prayers, speaking short prayers over and over again, or most profoundly and deeply (as the mystics teach us) sitting in periods of deep and complete silence, with no actual mental content or words passing between you and God, just communing. Here are some ideas and tips for praying during Lent:
My church offers a Lent Prayerbook that will guide you in reflection, confession, and give you creative, embodied practices throughout the season.
Schedule your prayer. Determine the time, place, and even ambiance (the lighting, seating location, posture, smell, noise, etc.). Try and stick with it. If you miss some days, that’s fine. Just pick it up when you can.
Keep a journal. This affects a different part of your brain than reading, thinking, and spoken prayer, and is a small way to embody prayer. It is also something to which you can return in the future.
Sustained, regular periods of silence. This is hard, but worth it. Science says it takes about 12 continuous minutes before our brains experience the benefits of meditation, so aim for that. But don’t feel bad if you need to start with 5. Here’s a book that can help.
Doing things in a mindful, prayerful way. Pick a short prayer you can repeat mentally or under your breath as you do everyday activities—commuting, showering, changing diapers, doing dishes. The most common prayers Christians have used have been “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” or just the name Jesus. As you do this, see where God shows up: an emotion, an inspiration, or in a metaphor with what’s around you.
Surround yourself with things that facilitate this type of awareness:
- Pick a candle, essential oil, or incense that inspires reflection and slowing down (not, for instance, a bright, fruity scent).
- Watch media that keeps you in touch with your depths and brings your thoughts to God or the suffering of the world and your place in it (my favorite would be any film by Terrence Malick).
- Listen to Christian, classical, or sacred music: I’d suggest Mozart’s Requiem, Rachmaninov’s Vespers, Cool Hand Luke’s Of Man, Lent by The Brilliance, or even one of the two Lent Mixtapes I made years ago, though just search Spotify for “Lent” and you’ll find hundreds of other albums and playlists.
- Print out pieces of art that inspire reflection or turn your focus to Christ, the Cross, human suffering, or your own mortality.
Use outside guidance, both in text and audio. A difficulty in designated prayer time is that we sometimes just don’t know what to say. Trying to think of what to pray is hard, and silence is even harder. But Christians have always used the prayers and guidance of others to help with this, namely in three ways:
- Liturgy: I don’t mean the content of what’s prayed, but a basic, consistent structure that you fill in. It can be as simple as the ACTS method–Adoration, then Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication or this popular method of praying for an hour in 5-minute chunks. Google for more.
- Daily Offices: This is prayer that is almost entirely written out for you, like our Prayerbook. The Book of Common Prayer does this and you can easily use it at Mission St. Clare. Phyllis Tickle’s The Divine Hour’s series is also great. And there are audio resources! I use the app Hallow and the Divine Office podcast, though Pray As You Go is a really good and popular option–they even have Lent-specific “audio retreats”.
- Devotionals & Praying Scripture: Another technique is to read something and use it as a launching pad for prayer. Use a Psalm and go one verse at a time, praying with the themes or content of that verse, and then move to the next. You can also use one of many Lent devotionals out there. You read a reflection, quote, or piece of poetry and then pray based on what it inspires in you. This year, I’m using Chuck DeGroat’s Falling Into Goodness and Malcolm Guite’s Word in the Wilderness.
I hope that’s helpful. Tomorrow, I’ll give some ideas on how to exercise generosity in this season.