Skip to main content

A New Good Way to Pray

For many of us, the start of a new program and school year feels like more of a “New Year” than January 1.

For many of us, back-to-school time is also back-to-routine time, back-to-church time, back-to-exercise time.

For anyone who is open to a fresh approach to prayer, I have a gift for you today. Here is a way of praying offered by Dennis Hamm, S.J.* that I find very useful, and powerful.

Hamm’s five-step prayer, which takes only about 15 to 20 minutes a day, is a version of the “Daily Examen” which St. Ignatius of Loyola wrote in the 1550s.

Here are the five steps, and below that, a few more words about why I like, and recommend you try, this way of praying.

1. Pray for light. Recall you are in the presence of God. This is a time to be still in the presence of God; you are not daydreaming, or merely reminiscing, but looking for how the Spirit of God is leading you. Pray for illumination, for a graced understanding. “Lord, help me understand this blooming, buzzing confusion.”

2. Review the day in thanksgiving. “Fondle beautiful gifts.” Looking back over your past 24 hours, recall anything and everything for which you are, or can be, thankful. Give thanks for gifts of existence, work, relationships, food, challenges. Walk though the past 24 hours, hour to hour, person to person, task to task, thanking God for every gift you have encountered.

3. Review the feelings that surface in your replay of the day. Your feelings -- positive and negative, painful and pleasing -- are clear signals of where the action was during your day. Simply pay attention to any and all feelings as they surface, the whole range: delight, boredom, fear, anticipation, resentment, anger, peace, contentment, impatience, desire, hope, regret, shame, uncertainty, compassion, overwhelmed, disgust, gratitude, pride, rage, doubt, lust, confidence, loyalty, admiration, shyness -- whatever was there. Emotions are a lively index!

4. Choose one of those feelings and pray from it. Choose the feeling you remember the most, the one that most caught your attention, and focus on it. It is a sign that something important was going on. Express, spontaneously, the prayer that surfaces: Praise? Some petition? Confession? A cry for help? -- “Lord, I put myself in your hands.”

5. Look toward what is next. Using your appointment calendar again, focus on the immediate future, the next 24 hours. What feelings surface as you look at your tasks, meetings, appointments, that you face? Fear? Delighted anticipation? Self-doubt? Temptation to procrastinate? Zestful planning? Regret? Weakness? Whatever it is, turn it into prayer: for help, for healing, for courage, for patience…whatever comes spontaneously. End with the Lord’s Prayer.

Here’s why I like this way of praying. As Hamm points out,

• It always gives you something to pray about.
• It starts out in gratitude, which should be the foundation of our relationship with God.
• It recognizes that God meets us where we are, and as we are.
• It acknowledges the fact that when we pray from our feelings, we are librated from them. Ask any psychologist: unattended emotions can dominate and manipulate us. As Hamm writes, “Attending to and praying from and about the persons and situations that give rise to our emotions helps us to cease being unwitting slaves to our emotions.”
• We find something to bring to confession. We stumble across our sins without making them the primary focus.
• We can experience inner healing. Praying about, as opposed to fretting over or denying our feelings, leads to healing of our mental health life.
• Praying like this helps us get over our Deism. God is more present in our everyday life than we normally think or see!
• Praying like this helps us get over our Pelagianism -- life as a “do it yourself” project, or the thought we can work our way into God’s favor, or into heaven. It reinforces a true theology of grace and freedom, and it sees life as response to God’s love and grace.


*Fr. Hamm’s original essay appeared in America magazine in 1994. I have modified it only slightly.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Let's Unpack One Trump Tweet on Refugees

No one can  -- and I certainly don't want to try -- to unpack every tweet the person currently holding the office of President of the United States sends out.

No one has the time to respond to every one of his tweets on just one issue. Although I wish I had the time on the issue of the Executive Orders recently issued in regard to refugees.

But every so often I feel I MUST respond to at least SOME of those tweets, lest I grow accustomed to them as normal. And I refuse to normalize the abnormal. 

Take one of Saturday's tweets, for example: in response to Judge Robart's temporarily stopping an Executive Orders, there was this: 



“What is our country coming to when a judge can halt a Homeland Security travel ban and anyone, even with bad intentions, can come into U.S.?” 

Let's unpack: 

"What is our country coming to..." 
Does that lament sound familiar? Ask yourself: who often says it, where do you hear it from the most? Is it a positive, hopeful line of thinking? I wil…

The Beatitudes, Lady Liberty, and Refugees

A sermon preached January 29, 2017
The Rev. John Ohmer, Rector
The Falls Church Episcopal

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the p…

Irresponsible to be Silent

A sermon preached June 19, 2016 The Rev. John Ohmer, Rector The Falls Church Episcopal, Falls Church, Virginia
(“Dear Lord: Carry your word into the most protected parts of our hearts.”)
Today I don’t have a traditional sermon. I certainly don’t have a sermon about Father’s Day, but now that I’ve mentioned it, happy Father’s Day. Today, instead of a traditional sermon, I feel led to share some things that have been on my heart this past week.
I’ve been your Rector here since August of 2012. Those of you who have been here a long time know that my preaching style is almost always “expository,” a fancy word that simply means you take a passage of scripture, and having studied it during the week, you show – or expose – its meaning and relevance as best you can, and then you sit down, trusting Holy Spirit will be hard at work simultaneously translating for each of you what you need to hear on any given Sunday.
One of the implications of this style of preaching is I tend not to preach “to…