There is a religious mindset which insists that prayers must be said in a particular way, for instance hands together, eyes closed, kneeling, standing, bowing…or perhaps all of the above in a particular liturgical order. The methods might be familiar but often it’s what to say – and how to stay – in prayer that proves hard. It’s harder still when the image we perhaps have of God is of someone aloof and unconcerned, or worse, like the kind of God recently depicted by Stephen Fry: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=-suvkwNYSQo.
Added to this, we live in a culture obsessed with fleeting experiences. We are adept at satisfying the senses, instantly responding to every web-led itch and bodily craving. The result is that we have become fantastically good at skimming surfaces and shockingly poor at navigating the deep. We panic if our gadgets ‘die’ yet remain oblivious to physical and spiritual death happening around us and within us. Indeed, when all that’s trending is Kim Kardashian’s butt, spiritual depth seems as hard to come by as alchemists’ gold.
In such a cultural time as this, why and how should we pray? The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 8 that when we don’t have a prayer, ‘the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.’
Prayer is an instinct. It’s the instinct that all is not right with the world and a longing for something to change. Put that feeling before God’s face and that is prayer. Prayer is a groan and a hope. Paul describes it earlier in the chapter as being like labour pains: prayer expresses what’s now, with all the pain and struggle, set in the hope of what’s to come. In the Bible the Psalmists do this best; they place the sum of the human condition before God’s face and put their hope in him for change. Pain without such hope is pain indeed.
In ‘Prayer: Our Deepest Longing’ Father Ron Rolheiser writes that ‘every thought or feeling is a valid entry into prayer.’ Stephen Fry might be appalled to learn of it, but in truth he’s almost praying.