A Few Thoughts on Prayer

There’s a lot I don’t know about prayer. Over the years, as a sometime Hindu, sometime Protestant, sometime Catholic, I’ve explored a number of different approaches to prayer. I’ve dug a lot of shallow holes, but haven’t dug deeply into any of these faith traditions. Regardless, in this column I want to share a few things I’ve found to be helpful.

I’ve always loved this prayer that my wife (who passed about ten years ago) taught our daughters when they were young:

Thank you for the world so sweet,
Thank you for the food we eat,
Thank you for the birds that sing,
Thank you God for everything.

Some Christian prayers that I’ve worked with — and recommend — are the Lord’s Prayer, the 23rd Psalm, the St. Francis Prayer, and the Rosary.

The Jesus Prayer is a kind of Christian mantra. It’s been used for centuries, mainly by religious and lay people in the Orthodox churches. It is also a favorite of many Catholics and Anglicans. One version of the Jesus Prayer is: “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me.” A number of minor variations on this prayer are in common use.

The original (long) version of the Serenity Prayer was composed by the great twentieth century Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. The short version, in common use in 12 step programs, goes like this:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

Thomas Merton, the 20th century Trappist monk, composed this wonderful prayer:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that
I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am
actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please You
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that, if I do this, You will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust You always though I may seem to be lost
and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for You are ever with me,
and You will never leave me to face my perils alone.

A friend of mine one time was talking to some friends of hers about a problem she was having with a neighbor. A friend suggested she pray over it. A few weeks later her friend asked her how it was going. “It’s not working,” she answered, “He’s not dead yet.”

If I can be honest with myself, I sometimes catch myself praying “God, save me from the consequences of my own foolish choices.” This is not a prayer that I recommend.

Then there’s the story of the little boy who prayed “A, B, C, …” Someone asked him what he was doing, and the answer came: “God knows what to do with the letters.”

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