Prayer Practices

Prayer Practices

The Lord’s Prayer

The Lord’s Prayer is likely familiar to those who have been in mainline churches for any length of time. This prayer is woven together though three Gospel accounts in our New Testament. It is a prayer attributed to Jesus as an example to his followers of how to pray — a pattern with ingredients. For those who may say “I don’t know how to pray,” this is a great place to start.

This prayer can be offered in community or by yourself, and in any setting where you might not know what words to pray.

Pray the following words aloud:

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses (debts),
as we forgive those who trespass against us (our debtors)
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory, forever. 

The Jesus Prayer and Recitation Prayers

METHOD: Speak aloud gently but clearly, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Now repeat 10,000 times.

The classical form of the Jesus Prayer is, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” The actual words of these short prayers can vary. Some people use simpler forms of the prayer, such as, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” Or, we might say a Psalm verse, or a Bible quote, or some other short prayer.

One particularly ancient recitation of prayer is called the Trisagion: “Holy God, Holy and Strong, Holy and Immortal, Have Mercy Upon Us.” The particular content of the words matters less than their meaning to you and their brevity, so they can be uttered with complete familiarity.

Verbal repetition calms the senses and stills the mind. By contrast, sensory overload and excitement can be addictive. Inner silence can usually be achieved only by substituting one thought for another. Hence, the Jesus Prayer overrides our usual compulsive stream of consciousness about our own anxieties.

Beginning with this form of prayer, we might be led to deeper inner stillness, prayer without words. The caution here is that prayer without words is not heaviness, semi-sleep dullness. Rather, wordless prayer is alive, vigorous, God-awareness.

Inner silence, inner stillness, called hesychia, is experienced by imageless contemplation. When consciousness strays, returning to a spoken utterance is both a somatic cue to bring the mind back and a prayer of intercession asking God to grant mercy. The desire motivating this prayer is to open oneself to God. Both the Jesus Prayer and other forms of recitation prayer make us single-centered, concentrating upon the here and now, focused, one-pointed. The point is God.

The Jesus Prayer in various forms dates to the earliest Christian hermits in the Egyptian desert in the fourth century. Its method slowly brings our body, breath, mind, and heart into parallel alignment toward God.

Bishop Kallistos Ware says that if we pray the Jesus Prayer for short periods, ten or fifteen minutes at the beginning, then there is no problem matching the words of the prayer to our breath. Breathe naturally, without playing with the rhythm of the breath. On the inhale, we can say, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God.” On the exhale, we can say, “have mercy on me, a sinner.” Breathe and pray slowly and reverently and attentively.

We don’t say the Jesus Prayer to get “some benefit.” We don’t pray to reduce our stress, or strengthen our immune system, or lose weight, or add years to our life. On the contrary, we enter prayer to follow Christ, to become open to Him. His way is the Way of the Cross.

The Shema

The central prayer and confession of the faith of Israel is the Shema (sheh-MAH) from Deuteronomy 6:4-5:

English: “Hear O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is One.”

Transliteration:  Shema Yisrael, Adonai eloheinu, Adonai ehad

Hebrew: שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָֽד

When Jesus was asked what was the first and greatest commandment, he began his response with the Shema (Mark 12:28). The act of reciting this prayer is understood to be a daily reaffirmation of belonging to God’s rule and God’s Kingdom.

Repeated oral recitation of the prayer in its short or longer forms, incorporating Deuteronomy 6:5-9, is still a daily part of Jewish prayer practice and would have been part of the daily prayer practice of Jesus and his disciples. To share in the recitation of this prayer is to participate bodily with the great cloud of witnesses and even the seraphs who continuously sing God’s praises.

Gratitude Prayer

Throughout life’s trials and blessings, displaying a general attitude of gratitude should be a hallmark of our Christian faith, and it also makes you a lovely person to be around!

Practicing gratitude actually increases dopamine in your brain (the stuff that makes you feel good!), and it encourages your brain to seek more of the same. Scientifically speaking, the more you are grateful for, the more you will find things to be grateful for.

Feel free to use whatever words of gratitude toward God that you choose. There is no wrong way to say thank you to God for this day or for whatever else you may be grateful for in this moment.

As the Psalmist reminds us, “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24)

  • Step 1 – Give thanks to God.
  • Step 2 – Repeat.

Gratitude in the Body: Guided Meditation

There’s a video available for this practice.

Come to a comfortable position. Feet flat, firmly on the floor. Your back upright in a chair. Hands laying softly in your lap or at your sides.

As you take yourself through this practice, know that your mind may wander. That is ok. Just recognize your mind wandering and gently, without judgment, bring it back to the present moment.

Take a few long, deep breaths, letting your chest rise and fall with each inhalation and exhalation. When you are ready, let your eyes slowly close or bring your attention to one spot on the floor.

As you continue to breathe slowly and deeply, let your attention rest gently on your breath, feeling the movement as it enters and exits your body. Each time you exhale, let go of any tension. Relax your face, your neck, your shoulders, your belly, your hips.

Settle your attention on your eyes. You may even want to gently touch your eyes with your fingertips, giving thanks for being able to see the world around you.

Next focus on your ears, gently touching your ear lobes, giving thanks for being able to connect with the sounds all around you and for being able to listen openly to others.

Now bring your attention to your mouth and throat, feeling your lips and neck, giving thanks for the ability to connect and communicate with others through your words and speech.

On your next exhale, settle your attention on the area around your heart, focusing on feelings of love, gratitude, compassion, empathy, forgiveness. With your attention at your heart center, bring to mind something or someone you are grateful for. Maybe it is something a friend or family member shared with you recently; maybe it is someone you helped or were kind to. Maybe it is even a special pet. Start to create that picture in your mind’s eye and gently breathe in and out, staying with that vision for the next 5-7 breaths.

As you continue with your easy, relaxed breathing, perhaps you feel gratitude for the work you engage in every day, the ability to do your job, or the community in which you live and worship. Notice where this is showing up in your body, feeling into it. Let this feeling expand on your inhale and deepen on the exhale.

Now bring your attention to the people who truly nourish you in your life and how they bless you with their presence. Feel gratitude for your own life and the many gifts you have been blessed with. Start to bring this attention to how your gratitude feels in this area around your heart. With each inhale, let this feeling grow and expand… filling your chest, your head, your arms and hands, your legs and feet. And with each exhale, allow any tension in those areas of your body to dissolve, bringing ease and peace.

And now, as you return to the present moment, let your body remember the sensations of your gratitude as you wiggle your feet and hands, open your eyes, and come back to your space. Allow yourself to carry this feeling with you into the rest of your day, spreading gratitude to others you encounter on your path, letting it spill into the places you inhabit, lifting those around you along the way.

Welcoming Prayer

There’s a video available for this practice.

Welcoming Prayer is a self-calming practice that can be used “in the moment” when we have been thrown off kilter, triggered, or held captive by a thought or emotion.

It works well with:

  • Physical pain
  • Emotions of anger, fear, and rage
  • Moments of pride or vainglory (emotions that may feel good but ultimately don’t serve us)

The goal is to re-find your center. It helps to do this prayer as close as possible to the occasion that triggered you.

1. FOCUS. Become aware of what is going on with you as a sensation in your body. What are the physical sensations that this has set off in your body? Where in your body are these sensations living? Be present to what is going on inside you. Don’t try to change it or psychoanalyze it. Just be present to it.

2. WELCOME. With your attention on sensation, gently say “Welcome.” You are welcoming the feeling, the sensation, or the persistent thought. You are NOT welcoming the outside situation that caused it. E.g.: “Welcome, discomfort. Welcome, tight shoulders. Welcome, fear. Welcome, clenched throat. Welcome, disappointment.”

Keep going back and forth between focusing on the sensation and welcoming the inner experience. At some point, you will likely feel a shift in energy, where the triggering event will no longer have the same kind of power over you.

3. LET GO. At some point, it will feel natural to simply let it go. End with any or all of these words:

In the midst of this moment, I choose to

  • Let go of my desire for security and survival.
  • Let go of my desire for esteem and affection.
  • Let go of my desire for power and control.
  • Let go of my desire to change my internal situation