As long as I can remember, I’ve struggled with prayer. Not because I find any particular method difficult -I’ve loved doing various forms of prayer: praise and worship, lectio divina, the rosary, adoration, the liturgy of the hours – but because I struggle to make time to pray on a regular basis. I’m inconsistently faithful to prayer – and this is something I want to change. So Jen purchased a book for me called The Better Part by Fr. John Bartunek – in hopes of helping me to become more faithful (and more consistent) in my prayer.
The results after almost 6 weeks? I’ve been more faithful to my prayer, but I’ve still got a long way to go. What I’ve found in this book is a simple and beautiful structure of prayer that helps me to better pray with scripture. And with the 2015 Lenten “Time to Pray” series around the corner, it’s the format I intend to use for the daily prayers posted on this site. It uses a four step structure (drawing in large part from both Ignatian & Carmelite tradition) – a structure I like to call “C4 Prayer.” These make up what Fr. Bartunek identifies as key elements of a heart to heart conversation with God – which is the purpose of praying in the first place.
Step 1 involves turning away from your exterior concerns and turning towards God. It means finding a time and place (a consistent one, if you can make that happen) that you are going to set aside for God. Here, you shut the door on the outside world – literally, perhaps, but figuratively for sure: shutting down music and putting your phone into silent or even airplane mode. Once you’ve carved this space out, there are a few simple steps that follow:
- Recognize God’s presence: notice that He is truly there, whether it be in your heart, beside you, all around you, or some other image that helps refresh your awareness of His presence with you.
- Listen up, and remember that God has something He wants to say to you TODAY, and that during this time He wants to do something in your soul.
- Focus, and recognize that you need to hear what He has to say to you… recognize that your are dependent on God who created you and who has redeemed you in your brokenness.
- Renew in your heart a desire to hear God’s words.
Take some spiritual text (preferably scripture) and read through it slowly, twice. As you go through it, make a note of what God is saying to you here and now in your life. You’re not looking for some new insight or new truth, just something that you need to hear in this moment of your life. Fr. Bartunek emphasizes that we need to be seeking for whispers as we read – and I like to make a note each time something jumps out at me (either by highlighting it or writing it down somewhere.) Be patient here, and don’t get discouraged – this will take some practice. Often some sort of commentary or reflection (like what will be offered in the “Time to Pray” series) will be helpful.
Having noted some particular item or flower to consider, respond to it. Use word of praise, or sorrow (contrition), or gratitude. Ask things of God – it may be to live up to what you are considering in step 2, and this response may also lead you back to your passage for some further consideration – this is ok! The key here is to work at letting down the guard of your heart so God’s word can penetrate, regenerate, and inspire you in the depths of who you are.
Having concentrated, and placed yourself in the presence of God, having considered some passage of His word, and having conversed with Him in response to this, you now come to the point where the rubber meets the road: you need to put your meditation into action. Renew your commitment to live as one of Jesus’ disciples; and consider whether the days meditation leads you to commit (or re-commit) yourself to some act of charity, of penance, to take on a spiritual program, or whether it’s some dimension of what’s going to take place in this day. Ultimately, the key here is to bridge the content of your meditation into some concrete action.
Once you’re done, conclude with a prayer that reminds you of your commitment to Christ. A prayer from Fr. Bartunek I recommend is as follows (though you can use any prayer – even a spontaneous prayer on the spot that expresses these sentiments):
You know how weak I am, Lord, but you also know how much I want to follow You. You have planted that desire in my heart. I am yours, Lord. Wherever I go, and whatever happens, I belong to You. I never want to be separated from You. As hard as it is, I want to do Your will, because You are my God, my creator, and my redeemer, my Father and my faithful friend. Thy will be done in my life today, Lord, Thy Kingdom come.