Mike’s Meditations: Embracing All Prayer Types

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by Mike Van Vranken

I recently overheard two people discussing (maybe arguing) about whose form of prayer was best. One thought Sunday Mass was the best form of prayer because they could pray while hearing God’s Word, while taking communion, and while sharing the entire experience with other believers. The other was convinced that being one with God in a personal, individual engagement with the Almighty was the only way to pray. Of course, to put God in a box and suggest there is only one best way to be with Him limits our ability to experience Him in all things. In other words, it is not about pitting personal and internal prayer against vocal and communal prayer; it’s always about both. God is available to us in countless ways and forms. To limit those opportunities may be the saddest and most shallow decision we humans can make.

We know that the temple in Jerusalem and the local synagogues were important to Jesus’ faith walk. In Luke’s gospel, we are told it was Jesus’ custom to attend and even teach at the synagogue. We also find similar scriptures of Jesus in the temple.  If praying with a community was important to Jesus, it should be important to us too, right?

When we consider we are members of the Body of Christ, communal worship is a no brainer. It unites our praise and worship into a single celebration that more than just shows our connectedness as a body; it also solidifies our understanding that we are all daughters and sons of the living God. The joining together in prayer actually produces an experience of strength that reminds us we are not alone and we have comfort, support and encouragement in all the people around us.

Additionally, when we see Christ in the person next to us, we begin to realize that we have more in common with our diverse population than we first thought. It makes it easier to forgive, to assist, to feed and clothe and heal everyone around us because the Holy Trinity resides in each of us.

At the same time, even though we can and should find God in all things, especially in each other, we still have that inner desire to be one with God on a very personal and intimate basis.  Yes, we can hear about God’s love, and even feel it in other people. But, I have found there is nothing that compares to the truly knowing God’s love that comes from engaging one-on-one with the Father, Son and Spirit who is within me.  And again, if we want examples from Jesus, the scriptures are full of stories where he went off and prayed alone to the Father all night.

What did the desert fathers, the monks and the mystics all have in common?  A deep inner life of oneness with God that allowed them to experience the one who loved them first. Once they personally knew the lover, they fell in love with God in a way they didn’t know possible. They continually joined with Him in quiet, contemplative prayer. A prayer that was so devoted to the lover that they didn’t ask for favors or petitions. They talked with God, listened to Him, communed with Him and loved Him beyond their own beliefs. They realized the more personal and intimate love they gave to God, the more love they received in return. Consequently, the same love they shared with God, could now be shared with all people. And their experiences were so deeply interwoven with God, it was always hard for them to find words to communicate them.

Sometimes I’m asked how a person can begin a very personal and intimate prayer experience.  My advice is to consider a certified Spiritual Director for help. They are neither counselors nor therapists. Instead, their role is to help you with your relationship with God. You will have conversations with them about your prayer life and the ways you detect that God is moving in your life. He or she is interested in your actual experiences with God. It is as simple and as deep as that.

So, if you have limited yourself to either weekly or daily communal prayer with your church, or a regular interior and intimate contemplative time with God, I urge you to consider encountering the Holy Trinity in both forms.  Just as they were both valuable to Jesus, I believe you will find them both very beneficial to you and your relationship with God as well.  It’s not either one or the other… It’s “both/and.”

Mike is a writer, teacher, and co-author of the book, Faith Positive in a Negative World. You can contact him at  www.mikevanvrankenministries.org

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