Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Art of Verbal Prayer

The following comes from Romano Guardini:
To pray is to communicate with God; the medium of communication is the spoken word, and although we can convey feeling, desire, and intent also by facial expression and gesture, it is only by words that we can give them clarity of meaning and of form. By the word also we declare and bind ourselves. Thus in oral prayer as in any other form of speech, it matters what kind of words we use and how we use them. Right intent is in itself not enough.
It is true that clumsy and awkward words that spring from a sincere heart are preferable to the most flowery ones which are devoid of inner substance. God looks into the hearts of men and will not reject those of pure heart who find it difficult to express themselves clearly or well.
The words we speak will themselves affect our state of mind. Human speech does not originate with the individual as an auto-genous means of self-expression; man finds the world of words — the language — ready-made for him. He is born into the language, grows up with it, and is influenced by it to an even greater extent than by his surroundings.
Language penetrates down to the roots of his mental and emotional life. He thinks in it, feels in it; it is the vehicle of intercourse with his fellows and the means by which he learns the significance and use of all objects.
The language of prayer is no exception to the rule. Only to a limited extent can the individual make up his own wording; the greater part of it he finds ready-made. It follows that the words used in prayer have a formative influence on the whole of our spiritual life; we should therefore pay due attention to them.

Spontaneous prayers

The most vital prayer is the one which springs unprompted from the heart; it has no difficulty in finding its own appropriate language. Indeed, we may say that the spontaneous expression of repentance or yearning, adoration or joy, supplication or thanksgiving, is the prime language of prayer.
Learning to speak (that is, acquiring the faculty of putting one’s thoughts and feelings into words and conveying them to others) is a vital part of our growing-up process. It should be the aim of education to develop in the individual the ability not merely to use the language correctly but also in accordance with his own way of experiencing and seeing the world — in other words, to use it in an individual manner.
This also applies to the language of prayer. We do not pray merely to communicate our needs to God — He knows our hearts better than we do. Prayer is an intimate form of speaking which should bear the mark of our personality. In prayer we live before God, offer up to Him what is ours to offer, and receive from Him what it pleases Him to give to us. Therefore the language of our prayer should be truly our own.
There are times when spontaneous formulation of our prayer is easy. When we feel God’s presence, or when we are in distress and put ourselves into God’s merciful hand, the right words come of themselves.
Often, however, the heart is empty and the mind has little to say; in this state of poverty speech does not come easily. But we must not give up; we must accept this insufficiency, for it has its own purpose and its own significance. We must find words of prayer which are true to it, words of great simplicity — plain affirmations of faith, hope, and acceptance. Such words are not less valuable than those which flow in easy abundance, and they are the right ones for the occasion precisely because they are not contrived or artificial.
If words do not come easily we should not immediately resort to established texts; we should subject ourselves to the discipline of inner poverty. We may learn lessons from it which no sacred books can teach us.
Even if the language of our prayer consisted in nothing more than the words “I believe in Thee” or “I bow before Thee” or “I will obey Thee and do all that is in my power” or “I commend myself to Thy holy care,” the prayer would be as precious before God as the most inspired flow of words in a moment of profound emotion. However, we should not go to extremes of resignation. If we cannot find the right words within, we must not hesitate to go to external sources.

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