Monday, May 24, 2004

Pray always

This weekend we had stake conference. Elder Parmley of the Seventy presided. He spoke of the need to pray always in our hearts, and spoke of his own efforts to do so while practicing medicine. It's not clear to me that the kind of “prayer” we can have in our hearts continually is the same kind of prayer we utter vocally (or even silently, but formally). The latter seems to require a focus and mindfulness (discussed somewhat in my post on Vain Repetitions) that we cannot have while doing other things that require our attention.

Is the “prayer in our hearts” similar to driving a car: something that occupies a portion of our attention, but at a level that allows us to focus on other things until we need to focus back on what we are doing “automatically?” If so, is it really prayer? If I carry on a conversation without paying full attention to the other person (something I am, unfortunately, wont to do), it is impolite and perhaps unethical. Is this not the case with “auto-pilot” prayer?

Or is this kind of prayer more a “way-of-being-in-the-world:” an attitude and a tendency to think of God before other things? If so, how is it connected to formal prayer in which we are focused on a conversation with God?


  1. Hm. I don't know. Since I see prayer as conversation, I can't just 'hive off' part of my mind to talk with God. When I talk to him, I try to focus on that conversation. However, I have been known to pray while driving & had a ZL in the mission get his testimony after doing a Moroni 10 prayer in such a manner. Other than would seem to be more analgous to a battlefield cry for "Medic!" when praying during an operation, court case, etc.

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  3. A number of years ago, I experienced a series of related changes in my prayers. Ultimately (so far, of course) those changes have led me to find greater meaning in the concept of praying constantly, though I wouldn't have guessed that was where I was headed while in the middle of the process.

    As I have since read some of St. Teresa de Avila's writings about her experience, it is difficult not to adopt the terminology she uses. With apologies to St. Teresa, I experienced what she described as a "dryness" in my prayers, that was a noticeable change from my prior experience. Rather than drawing into the spirit of my prayers, I felt as though they drifted away into nothingness -- empty words, vain repetitions.

    I even took up praying beside an open window for a time, to feel the slightly greater connection to God that I could in the out of doors than I sensed in my bedroom. Still, that, too, seemed very distant from God, though it did suggest to me that my perceptions of God and God's creation were not as clear-cut as I had previously understood them to be.

    That dryness led to other changes, as well. The first was guilt: As I understand the Church's instruction, I am supposed to pray (depending on whom you ask) about seven times a day, minimum (family prayer night and morning, personal prayer night and morning, and over each of three meals). That, of course, omits Sundays, when the figure increases by a minimum of eight (omitting any leadership, home/visiting teaching, firesides, or other official meetings). I could go through the motions, but without significant effect in my life. My prayers became brief: "Dear Lord, Thank you for this day. Bless me to be of use to others." Longer prayers, which at that point were only offered by others, seemed to me to be missing the point, though they clearly were meaningful to others, though less to me.

    At roughly that same time, I began something of a search for the spiritual life I had once known. As I reflected on one of several extended trips to the desert that I had made, it occurred to me that my experience there was among the most spiritual experiences I had had at the time. I recognized in my own conduct the engagement of rituals. I found myself refreshed and rejuvenated in ways that I hadn't anticipated. The next trip I made, I tried to be conscious of that experience while I was having it.

    And my trip became a walking prayer.

    In yoga practice, I've developed that experience, as well, extending the sanctity of prayer to the motions and postures and focus I practice. I readily note that it is a most different concept of prayer than that which I had practiced previously. It is not so discursive, much less confined to my laundry list of "thank you"s and "please bless"es. Yet it connects me quite firmly to God, in a way that I had for some time despaired of experiencing.

    And when I manage to "pray" in such a fashion, to live mindfully of who I am in the midst of God's creation, I feel to be living a prayer. And when I don't, no amount of discursive pleading seems to make a difference.

    In many ways, once again, it is the rainy season.

  4. I don't see why we have to pigeonhole "praying always". There are different kinds of conversation that I have with others. Sometimes it's more automatic (Welcome to blank, may I take your order please...), sometimes it's more in depth. I think personally, it's a combination of having a spirit of prayer and reverence, and occasionally taking the time to converse with my Father in Heaven. I'm reminded of Brigham Young's statement that elders should be ready to preach at the drop of a hat. You need to have that connection open with Heavenly Father, so that communication can go both ways.

  5. The difference between formal prayers and the "pray always" prayers, in my mind, is similar to the difference between a thought and a feeling. Of the latter one needn't always be conscious even if it's always there -- while the former requires focus and attention.

  6. Greenfrog, thanks for your comments. I think I have caught glimpses of the "living a prayer" feeling you describe, but never for a significantly extended period of time.


    I recognize that there are varieties of conversations. But it seems to me that the "May I take your order?" variety with God has been discouraged by the Brethren. Is that praying with real intent?

  7. I don't think it the difference between a thought and a feeling. Rather I think that praying always is when you have such a companionship and tune that you are always in connection with God. You don't have the "break away" from the world and consciously think about praying. Rather you are always doing things in God. God is always there with you. The distance is reduced the more you do it.

    I've had that experience in my life many times. (It's been too long since I have lived like that, to be honest. It's something I'm working on.)