Monday, June 15, 2009
A Metropolitan Reflects on Prayer, part 3
3. How To Pray? (part one)
Prayer has to be learned. It is like swimming. When you are first thrown into the water, you may sink. You then may think that the law of gravity is final and cannot be changed. But there are other laws, like those of buoyancy and motion. The mere knowledge of these laws cannot teach you to swim. One jumps in and slowly, by repeated practice, acquires the skills of remaining afloat and of moving on the surface of or under the water. And some people are more skillful swimmers than others, because they have learned the rules and acquired the skills by constant practice.
The first rule in prayer as in swimming, is not to give up just because you do not succeed in the first three or four attempts. Prayer is a spiritual skill to be acquired by constant practice.
The second rule, again as in swimming, is to 'let go,' to let the water support you, to be unanxious and relaxed. In prayer also we have to let ourselves go, relax, trust in God to support you and teach you how to pray.
The third rule is to keep up the practice, even if you do not feel like it, or enjoy it. In the life of prayer, our inherent love of sensual pleasures and our selfish love of laziness and comfort, will interfere to make us reluctant to keep up the practice, finding various excuses for not praying.
There is no use saying 'I don't feel like praying' or 'I do not get anything from it.' It will take years before you get the habit of prayer and really begin to enjoy it. One must strengthen the will to have control over laziness of the body and desires of the flesh if one is to make progress in the art and skill of prayer. There is nothing like regular practice which can teach you to pray.
A fourth rule, closely connected with the third, is: develop the discipline of prayer through fasting and self-control. Man does not become free and good like God until he learns to control his own inner drives and passions.
Restraint of hunger and thirst, of anger and jealously, of sexual passion, of the desire for glory and flattery, of the desire for bodily excitement and for sensual stimulation, and of all inner turbulences which make us do things against our own free will, is a necessary preparation for prayer. As good athletes competing for the Olympic Games go through very rigorous self-discipline in order to keep their body, muscles and nerves in good condition, so should the man of prayer keep his body, mind and spirit in good condition and under conscious control.
by METROPOLITAN PAULOS MAR GREGORIOS (Indian Orthodox Church), Appendix: "What is Prayer? Why Pray? How Pray? (written for Orthodox young people in India)" pages 76-83, found in The Joy of Freedom 1967 (republished 1986 by CLS, Madras, India)