The ABCs of Prayer, From the Masters of Meditation
There are a lot of favorite acronyms to guide daily prayer. After using one for decades, I have recently switched to the ABCs of prayer: It keeps my mind focused and better expresses how a real relationship with God should look. Here is how it works.
As St. Thérèse put it: “Prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.” That, in a word, is “adoration.”
By adoring God, we do a number of things all at once: We acknowledge his greatness and our smallness, and we strongly reaffirm his priority in our life. To adore him, tell him you believe in him, hope in him, and love him. In his incarnation, he made himself to be “adorable” and it is good to imagine him in whatever way he is most lovable to you at the moment — for me it is in his manger, on the cross, or sharing his Sacred Heart.
I still adore God by repeating a prayer I found in an old English church: “I adore you, oh God, from the depths of my littleness. You are so great, and I am so small.”
Why adore? Becauseadoration brings you happiness. Fish were made to swim and are only happy in the water; we were made to know, love, and serve God, and feel like fish out of water if we don’t adore him.
Reviewing the blessings of your day trains you not to just adore God as if he exists in some separate realm only, but to attach your adoration of God to the real benefits he fills your life with each day.
I review the gifts he gave me of time, place, beauty, truth and goodness, especially through other people, and through my faith (like this).
Why count your blessings? Because it gives you a sense of belonging. It is easy to feel alone in the world, even when you live with other people, but you are never alone. God is smiling on you always.
C is for Contrition. Express your sorrow for sin.
St. Ignatius sees examining your conscience as a crucial daily exercise. For him, that means reviewing your blessings first but then examining how and why you have misused or wasted them at times.
I try to review how I have let God (and myself and others) down in one of these six ways. Following an old Benedictine prayer card, I end by imagining kissing each of Christ’s wounds and praying, “I am so sorry; I love you.”
Why sorrow for sins? Because contrition gives you freedom. It is very easy to give your heart to material goods, personal comfort and pleasure — they quickly become your idol and master, your reason for living. Contrition reorders the priorities in your life, putting God first.
It is easy to turn prayer into a wish list for God, so I save petitions for last. I start with the Pentecost Sequence, in its prose version. Above all, I want the Gifts and Fruits of the Holy Spirit, especially wisdom, understanding, counsel, and peace. This is a great time to seek these things by meditating on a passage of the Bible or a mystery of Christ’s life such as the Beatitudes, the Eucharist, his mother, the Passion, or the Resurrection.
This is also a good time to realize, before God, that we exist for one another. I try to go through each of the Works of Mercy, and pray for the hungry, homeless, doubtful or sorrowing — and pray for the grace to serve them. This is also a good time to bring to mind those you need to forgive, and pray for them.
Why petition God? St. Augustine put it best when he counseled to “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.”