There are countless good reasons and seemingly endless ways to pray. The saints, scripture, our families (hopefully), our own hearts, the glory of the created world and our Lord all speak to us, if we are open to hearing it, about the value and importance of prayer in its myriad forms. Saint Francis offered praise for the natural world in the beautiful Canticle ascribed to him. In a more personal and vulnerable prayer, he seeks understanding, repeatedly asking “Who are you God, and who am I?” Saint Paul famously challenges us to “Pray without ceasing.” The psalms are full to bursting with prayerful people who sing, dance and burn incense in thankfulness for love and forgiveness, milk and honey, flocks and fields. Jesus teaches us the Lord’s Prayer and He regularly goes off to a quiet place by Himself to be alone with God. He raises his eyes to heaven and lies prostrate in the company of His disciples to model the posture of humility in prayer.
One of the best reasons to pray I’ve ever heard is because we become like those with whom we spend time. I remember my parents warning me not to ‘hang out’ with kids that would be a bad influence. It was good advice and the same logic applies here. If you want to be more like Jesus, Mary, and the saints, hanging out with them in prayer is a good place to start.
Another compelling reason is because God desires to be in relationship with us. No matter how feeble, stumbling or incomprehensible my prayer may be, just breaking out of the constant chattering of my ‘monkey mind’ (as Father Richard Rohr so aptly calls it) to utter a brief word of thanks or supplication is a step in the right direction.
I pray because I never know what good it might do. I was not raised Christian, but in an unexpected way, the prayer of others inexplicably drew me into the heart of God. When I was in my thirties, I worked on ships. There was a captain I knew who was always patient, consistently cheerful and calm under pressure. The crew trusted his leadership and followed him happily because he was fair, decisive and wise, and he wouldn’t ask anyone to do something he wouldn’t take on himself. One of the first things I remember seeing him do was get down on his hands and knees to help a steward clean up glass that had broken when she had dropped a tray of dishes on the deck. On this particular vessel, the crew ate lunch together. I noticed early on that the captain would rest his forearms on the edge of the table before each meal and close his eyes in silent prayer. There was no fanfare or awkwardness. It may not seem significant, but as someone who didn’t grow up with that kind of regular acknowledgement of God’s provision, it impressed me. I came to see it as integral to everything else I admired about him. I wanted what he had. His quiet expression of faith inspired me to find out more, eventually leading me to baptism and confirmation in the Catholic Church.
I pray because I can’t help it! I will never forget one late afternoon this past May. It was a perfect day—warm, sunny and peaceful. The breeze carried the scent of freshly turned soil, the territorial calls of cardinals and the distinctive “chicka-dee-dee-dee” of their black-capped cousins. I had spent the day building garden beds with the help of a volunteer and tending to seedlings in the greenhouse. But now I was alone, sowing corn seeds in the 20 mounds we had constructed that morning. Squash and beans would later be added, following the “Three Sisters” pattern of companion planting used by the Wampanoag people. Kneeling in the garden, corn seeds in hand, I was suddenly flooded with a sense of well-being and contentment—a feeling of connectedness—that was joyful and overwhelming. I could not stay silent but prayed out loud with words of gratitude. I also prayed inwardly, asking God’s blessing for this crop and for all farmers and gardeners, for the hungry and the well fed. The planting itself became a prayerful act, trusting in God to “give the growth” and to send the rain and sun in right measure. By August the mature corn graced tables in many homes, occasioning even more expressions of appreciation. Thanks be to God!