Like most people, I like having routine in my life. In fact, the older I get, the more I cling to routine to get through the day. As a Catholic school teacher, I see on a daily basis how necessary routine is for children to get through theirs. That’s why a short while ago I wrote about how we all need to have a prayer plan in place if we want our prayer life to be fruitful. If we don’t have a plan for our prayer life, a prayer routine, the wheels quickly fall off and we begin to see prayer as useless.
In an attempt to deepen my contemplative prayer life, I came across one of my favourite prayer routines last summer reading Fr. Mitch Pacwa’s How to Listen When God is Speaking. Since reading Fr. Pacwa’s book and trying to incorporate many of his ideas into my own prayer life, I’ve done some research into the Ignatian Spirituality concept of the 5 P’sof Prayer. Although you will find a few variations that differ slightly, in a nutshell the 5 P’s are:
We need to prepare to pray. Although some prayer happens spontaneously; deep, spiritual contemplative prayer requires effort and preparation. This can seem daunting at first, but once you get into a prayer habit, preparing to pray will come as naturally as your spontaneous prayers. Begin by having a prayer purpose: thanksgiving for the simply things in your life, a special petition, for someone you love, in worship of God’s greatness … the list is infinite. Think of a passage in scripture that speaks to your purpose: a moment in Christ’s life (think of the Rosary Mysteries), a parable, something from the prophets; find that specific moment in scripture (our memory isn’t always true to the Word of God). Finally, have a time and place planned out for your prayer. Contemplative prayer is very different from spontaneous prayer, and where and when you prayer will have a direct effect on the fruitfulness of your prayer.
Your place of prayer can be just as important as your prayer itself. God speaks to us in the silence, and if you find you are distracted from your prayer by your surroundings, then your entire contemplative prayer effort will be in vain. I’ve written before about finding the ideal place for prayer, but I think these ideas could bear repeating. Pick a quiet place, away from worldly distractions (television, computer, smartphone). Find a place that will elevate your thoughts towards God – in RediscoverCatholicism, Matthew Kelly writes about how church is the most ideal place to pray; they were designed and built for prayer. If you can’t make it to your church, however, I’m sure most of us can find a corner in our home or garden that is conducive to prayer.
Although the Catholic Church teaches that there is no one ideal posture for prayer, it is important to find the proper position for your prayer. Most people relate kneeling with prayer, and although kneeling can help focus your mind on your prayer, it may not be the most suitable for longer periods of contemplative prayer. You want your posture (kneeling, sitting or prostrate) to be comfortable; yet not so comfortable that you begin to dose off (another distraction that can lead us away from prayer). I find that my posture needs to suit my prayer purpose to allow my prayers to be most effective: kneeling when in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, sitting comfortably when contemplating God’s will for my life and prostrate in those rare moments of extreme humility before the greatness of the Lord.
Reading and meditation on a passage of scripture will help you to understand God’s will for you at this particular moment of your prayer life. If you are seeking specific guidance on a particular issue, find a verse from the Bible that speaks to that issue – use the Catechism to find the Church’s teaching on this issue, along with related Scripture verses, or simply google your prayer purpose and Bible verse. If you want to meditate more deeply on God’s will, I would suggest the daily Gospel reading – there is a reason why God has called the Universal Church to meditate on that particular reading today, leading you to unexpected and joyful revelations about His will in your life.
Finally, put yourself fully and completely into the presence of God. Prayer is the means by which we develop our personal relationship with Him. If we cannot be fully and completely present to God in prayer, when can we? Listen to what God is saying to you – it won’t be with a shout, but rather in a whisper of silence. Once you listen to what God is saying to you, you will wonder how you didn’t hear Him in the first place. This fifth P of presence flows naturally out of the other four, but is essential to bringing fruit to our prayer life.