Prayer is mankind’s primary artery of connection with its Creator. Those who aspire to faithfulness would do well to remember this. Many things may be said about a prayer well done, but I would like to reflect only on a few of them.
First of all, central to any meaningful prayer are sincerity and devotion. While sincerity is connected to the intention behind engaging in any form of supplication, devotion is connected to the focus in that process.
Secondly, prayer is not just for asking to meet worldly needs, it is also a device for thanking, and asking for forgiveness. In fact, in its totality, prayer acts as a means of communicating with the Creator for the purpose of charging up spiritually.
Third, drawing upon the research on modern parenting, the debate on how much time should be spent on being with a child appears to have been settled thus: quantity opens to quality moments. It is not practical to expect that every time a parent is with a child, the time spent will be filled with quality – fun time, creativity, teachable moments, caring interaction, etc. On any occasion, the child may be sick, tired, irritable, distracted, or rambunctious. In fact, the parent may be out of sorts, also. In those instances, the parent’s time is spent on either simply managing the situation or hanging in there, and nothing else. Hence, only with stretches of interaction with a child, there will likely emerge pattern, attachment, love, respect, obedience, discipline, curiosity, skill, etc. Likewise for prayer. We need to have more praying moments in any period of time to capture a moment that is meaningful, satisfying, or heartfelt, or simply put – smoking.
Now, how does one add more time to praying? Well, just like modern athletes, we need to take baby steps – stretching a little at the boundary of tolerance and repeating it until the stretch becomes natural and integrated with the old. Then we stretch again and repeat. As our repertoire increases so also does our spiritual muscle build. So, the formula is to increase a little at a time and be at it on a regular basis. But prayer may be built along two dimensions: number of times reserved for praying in any period of time and duration of time spent on praying on each such occasion. These two elements should seamlessly fit into one’s daily life. Otherwise, it will not be sustainable and one is then liable to declare that praying is not one’s thing. BTW, praying multiple times in a day, for example, creates interference against forces of disquiet, indiscipline and self-centeredness that would otherwise take a life of their own. It’s like taking a timeout to regroup.
Incidentally, as in military, business, medicine, teaching, research, etc., prayer is subject to SOP or standard operating procedure. Best leaders among us have rituals that allow for rhythm or cadence. So, for a heartfelt moment with our Creator, we need to create a repeatable pattern that will feel organic. So, deciding on how many times, when and how long to pray allows one to gain a clockwork pattern.
Finally, two more related elements must be mentioned. i. The act of formal praying itself should have a structure or ritual that needs to be identified and followed every time one is hitting a prescheduled prayer. It could involve ensuring personal cleanliness, appropriate spot selection with appropriate ambience, adopting a particular direction, physical posture, incantation, etc. Prayer deserves this type of dignity once we realize Who we are communicating with. This way, too, time is not wasted in figuring out what to do next whenever engaged in ritual prayer. Having a ritual also allows a community to grow that shares those elements. ii. Ritual or formality should not rob prayer of its basic elements – sincerity and focus. Neither should it result in the absence of moments of spontaneous prayer resulting from a sense of awe, happiness, disgust, fear, or sorrow, or from a desire to receive forgiveness and blessing. The point is that, for prayer to count, life should be built around the formal, scheduled, ritual prayer, and not the other way around. Otherwise, prayer would be an afterthought, a burden and an obligation, delivered hurriedly without the heart and the mind guiding it. Consequently, it would be barren of desired productivity. Lacking dignity, prayer would be just another sloppy, spur of the moment lottery entry seeking a phenomenal rushed delivery.
Prayer allows one to communicate on all channels, at all times and in any circumstance with one’s Lord, the Ever-receptive Lord of the Worlds. Obsequiousness is always very much in order!
“O’ our Lord, accept our prayer.”