More Purpose in Prayer

On NPR the other day, a reporter was interviewing a monk from a monastery in Austria who makes Youtube videos of himself and the other monks doing Gregorian chants. The monk said that these beautiful songs are just their routine morning prayers. So the reporter asked, “What are you praying for?”

“We are not praying for anything, because our praying is without any purpose. Our only purpose is to say that God, He is great [and] to give praise to Him because God is so Wonderful.”

I loved this answer! It was a refreshing way to look at it. The question of what to pray for has been a source of some twofold confusion for me lately: First, we don’t often get what we ask for. In fact, if it weren’t for the self-censorship of requests like Ferraris and whatnot that we learn in Primary, I’d guess the percentage of fulfilled requests would be close to zero. Second, I’m convinced that we wouldn’t really want many of our requests filled anyway. Allow me to explain how the confusion started.

My younger sister had just left for the MTC. The occasion sparked in me a renewed earnestness in my prayers. I was so happy for her, and at the same time so concerned–from a distance–for her welfare. All this emotion infused my prayers with the kind of desperate sincerity that can tend to wane when life is good and normal. One evening I found myself pleading that she wouldn’t encounter any difficulty at all in learning Korean, that everything would go smoothly, and that she would have no challenges at all. Then in the midst of this rapturous blathering on, it was as if an unseen hand slapped me upside the head and very suddenly I was struck by the complete idiocy of this request. Why on earth was she even going on a mission, if not to encounter some difficulty along the way? So I tried again, with about 80% of the previous enthusiasm, but that was still a great deal of rapturous enthusiasm: “if she does encounter challenges, fine, but let her quickly overcome them without becoming distressed by them”—a kind of calm the child not the storm approach. Fair enough. But this time, I was only about halfway through saying it before I realized this was also a silly approach to a mission. Isn’t distress part of the purpose of challenges? “Ok, so, let her struggle some and get distressed, but…” but what? I found myself all wound up with the feeling of really desperately needing some favor from God, but with no actual object of want. I had nothing to pray for. Everything that was supposed to happen to her presumably would, and I didn’t feel it was my place to ask any of it to unfold differently.

So what is our purpose in prayer? What fills the time, if not a laundry list of requests for strengthening, nourishing, and lack of harm or accident? It seems even our most righteous, well-intentioned requests are either unnecessary, if they will happen anyway, or even potentially harmful, if they would interfere with needed growth experiences.

I’ve heard the idea that things can be “predestined” to happen but are somehow only triggered to actually happen if we first ask for them, with enough faith. But I’ve come to view the “enough faith” part of it to be unnecessarily cruel in the uncertainty of its threshold. When going through my infertility crisis, that was all I ever fasted or prayed about. After a while, I felt I was stuck in a kind of cosmic Halting Problem, not knowing whether I needed to ask with just a little more faith and wait a little longer, or whether it just wasn’t meant to be. When is adding a “…but not my will, but thine” clause good form, and when is it just a cover for our lack of true faith? How do we know? At some point, I decided I was going to lose my mind if I kept up this endless just a little more faith and waiting stretch. So I put a strict quota on that topic in prayers–only once a week or so. Though a quota is perhaps not a very theologically satisfying resolution, in my case, it seems to have worked—both in terms of mental health preservation, and the kid thing too.

Thus, for a while now, my prayers have been heavy on expressions of gratitude and general worship. That is to say, I share some of the singing monks’ outlook. We sure agree on one thing: “God is so Wonderful.” The requests I tend to make most regularly are in connection with the repentance part of praying–requests for forgiveness and strength to change. But I’ve been getting the feeling that it’s time to revisit the formula we learn in Primary, where more specific material requests are part of the ritual. Maybe I can start by requesting greater understanding of what sorts of things I should be requesting.

Updates:

Gentle reader: allow me to clarify that I fervently believe prayers should include requests and are answered, as I have had many very immediate, very tangible answers to prayers. This is simply a reflection on the inferiority of my will to God’s, and the idea that having some praise as part of our prayer is a good thing. Fear not, I shall fill many future blog posts with the stories of my answered prayers.

Don’t miss this video from the monks’ collection! It is truly entertaining (steel drum soundtrack!). Especially funny for Mormons I think, because it shows many of the same goofy impulses that we see in our own missionaries.

Comments

  1. For some of us, the purpose in prayer is usually to request more Cynthia posts. :P

  2. I find that God already knows our needs, so why do we need to pray for something we think we need oodles of time a day, voicing our desires about what we think we need once and letting him decide to give works for me. Also, when I have prayed for things I wanted persistently He has been gracious enough to give, and He has been ever so kind to let me suffer the consequences, because what I thought I needed I could have done without (except to learn that He will give if He is asked for something long enough!). So filling our prayers with recognition of all the good that He fills our life with and giving Him our love I think only opens our eyes more to His kindness and giving and hopefully our gratitude and love for Him.

  3. “We are not praying for anything, because our praying is without any purpose. Our only purpose is to say that God, He is great [and] to give praise to Him because God is so Wonderful.”

    I had the opposite reaction to this statement. Although Gregorian chants are beautiful and I certainly endorse spending a significant portion of time allotted for prayer in offering gratitude to God for the blessings and experiences with which we have been blessed, I find the monks’ statement to be a very sterile and, frankly, uninspiring view of prayer. “Our praying is without any purpose” is exceptionally bleak and, I find, a fitting statement for a dead religion. In a living religion — one guided by continuing revelation to leaders holding the proper authority and to individuals who have received the Gift of the Holy Ghost and who are striving to keep God’s commandments in order to have the companionship of the Holy Ghost and the personal revelation/inspiration that comes along with it — there is power in prayer and people pray with a purpose, with a belief that God cares about their needs, concerns and desires, and will in fact answer their righteous prayers. The fact that prayers often seem not to be answered or the person offering the prayer is praying for selfish gratification in one way or another can naturally lead some people to jettison the concept of petitionary prayer altogether. This, I would posit, is not the correct response.

    To the contrary, there is real value in a person deeply examining their desires and motivations in offering petitionary prayers and reviewing what their focus is and what their purpose in prayer is. A person can perhaps learn a few things about the purposes of God through this process.

    A belief in efficacious petitionary prayer is one of the things that makes the Restored Gospel so rich and alive in the lives of many of its adherents.

    As a believer in the historicity of the Book of Mormon (that the book relates events that happened to real people in real historical time), I have learned many things about petitionary prayer from the experiences and miracles recounted in that book of scripture that has preserved to come forth in the latter days. The Book of Mormon endorses petitionary prayer even while acknowledging that God’s purposes are not our purposes and therefore the outcome of our prayers remains in his hands and the answers will coincide with his ultimate purposes.

  4. When I was a child, I wondered greatly about this topic. One day, whilst reading the Bible dictionary in sacrament, I read this:

    As soon as we learn the true relationship in which we stand toward God (namely, God is our Father, and we are his children), then at once prayer becomes natural and instinctive on our part. Many of the so-called difficulties about prayer arise from forgetting this relationship. Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other. The object of prayer is not to change the will of God, but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant, but that are made conditional on our asking for them. Blessings require some work or effort on our part before we can obtain them. Prayer is a form of work, and is an appointed means for obtaining the highest of all blessings. (emphasis mine)

    As soon as I read this, particularly the line about bringing the will of the child into correspondence with that of the Father, everything became clear. Prayer is the time for us to discover what blessings the Lord has in store for us, and to ask for them, as well as to humble oneself before the Father.

    Personally, I have also found prayer “without a purpose”, that is without a specific item to pray for, has deepened my relationship with Father.

  5. Given the rather stilted English, John, I wonder if this is what the monk really intended to convey.

  6. President Eyring has taught, and I find it to be true, that a primary purpose of prayer is to find out who we can help and how we can help them. In my experience, that prayer, earnestly said, is always answered. I imagine that is the case because the Lord is most anxious that we become people who are thinking of ways to serve others.

  7. John F., I second Ronan’s reaction: you’ve probably got the wrong thread here. Also, is it helpful and charitable to characterize the largest branch of Christianity as a “dead religion”?

    Cynthia, thanks for this post. During the years that Taryn and I were infertile, we went through the same Halting Problem that you describe. Ironically, we did have a kind of miraculous experience that led to the birth of our daughter, Artemis, but it didn’t happen until after we had stopped praying for a child and had started making plans to adopt. At that point, we met a woman in our ward who had been infertile but had nonetheless conceived a child. She suggested to us that we talk to our doctors about a cheap and effective fertility drug that she had used — a drug that is evidently widely used but that no doctor we’d spoken with had even mentioned. Our second month on that drug, Artemis was conceived. So the seemingly miraculous intervention we needed arrived only after we had lost faith in the proposition that God would help us conceive a child.

    I think the idea of praying more for the simple purpose of praising God is a good one. Arguably, we don’t have much of a tradition of praise to draw on in Mormonism, though.

  8. Yeah, like I said, I’m not sure we can make too much out of this one sentence, and it is certainly an unkind reading to suggest that the devout monks of Heiligenkreuz don’t believe in petitionary prayer.

    As a statement of the purpose behind plainsong, I would say that what he says is fairly uncontroversial anyway. I don’t know much about the Gregorian chants sung at Heiligenkreuz, but the plainsong I witnessed in Oxford this year was simply the Psalms set to music. A Mormon analog would be our hymn-singing, which are prayers of praise and rarely petitionary. In catholic services, the chants precede the main prayers which are always petitionary.

  9. Cynthia L. says:

    certainly an unkind reading to suggest that the devout monks of Heiligenkreuz don’t believe in petitionary prayer.

    Yes, perhaps I should point out that I didn’t take his statement too literally, i.e. I didn’t take it to mean that they NEVER pray for things, but just that those songs are praise songs.

    And my post is not to say that I don’t believe in praying for things, but is rather simply a rambling reflection on mediating the balance between God’s will and our own.

  10. “it is certainly an unkind reading to suggest that the devout monks of Heiligenkreuz don’t believe in petitionary prayer.”

    I kind of thought that was Cynthia’s point and that she agreed with it. But I agree with you, Ronan, that Gregorian chants in and of themselves have no purpose other than aesthetic appeal, so that is probably what the monk meant when he said “our praying is without any purpose” and not what Cynthia took it to mean.

  11. It looks like # 8 is the answer to my # 9 — sorry, didn’t see that.

  12. Cynthia L. says:

    John, I only took it at face value to the extent that it caused me to reflect on how having some praise and gratitude in our prayers is a good thing. I didn’t take is as a definitive statement of their theology.

  13. Cynthia L. says:

    And there’s another answer! Let’s cross-post some more, shall we John? :-)

  14. Well, John, I still wouldn’t say that chants have “no purpose.” If that’s true, then Mormon hymn-singing is also meaningless. And yet we ascribe great merit to singing-as-prayer. Why not see the Gregorian chant as having the same value? Note the monk is indeed saying that the music has a purpose, namely to praise God. The rather awkwardly put first clause suggests that he means that the singing has no petitionary purpose (please solve world hunger, please bless the pope, please help me find my car keys).

    Also, whence this “dead religion” swipe?

  15. Cynthia L. says:

    rsp, that is an interesting point you have about God knowing things and only needing to voice it once. That gives some actual theological backing to my quota solution.

    I found that the quota was needed not because there was something wrong with God or with prayer, but rather that there was something wrong with me, specifically that at the time I wasn’t able to think about anything else. Thus all other worthy and good things that could have been in my prayers were crowded out with this obsession on one topic. Putting a quota was a concrete way to help me have better balance and more gratitude in my prayers.

  16. John F., I think you’ve missed the point, or possibly misspoken yourself, again. I really doubt that the monks in question, or very many other people who practice Gregorian chant as a religious act, would agree that the chants have no purpose other than “aesthetic appeal.” Certainly the chants are beautiful, but they serve very specific religious purposes — it’s just that those purposes aren’t petitionary.

  17. I frequently find myself stopped in the midst of praying for my children. I guess what I want for them is not necessarily what they need! I have found that praying for more faith, more willingness to serve, and more desire to be obedient, both for them and for myself, usually results in my getting what I want. Strangely enough, I feel as though I always receive what I pray for even though I don’t think that is really the case. It must just be my perception. I am so seriously blessed! ;-)

  18. I think this monk in Austria was referring specifically to the chant, and not to every prayer he offers to God. Having spoken with monks while visiting a monastery, I remember one of them commenting that the majority of their lives are spent in prayer on behalf of the people of the world, and of Catholics in particular. The consider it a significant part of their “job”, if you will, to carry on this proxy work of praying on behalf of others. While some of these prayers are indeed laudatory, many others are petitionary.

    Cynthia: I appreciate that you mentioned that your prayers “have been heavy on expressions of gratitude and general worship.” The gratitude part is built into the generic formula for prayer in the LDS tradition. But the laudatory worship is not for some reason. A lot of the choral music I’ve sung over the years has been laudatory, but I find myself a little out of my comfort zone if I try to verbalize praise in prayer outside of a musical context. Anyone experience the same thing?

  19. I believe that all prayers are answered. I think that the reason many feel that their prayers are unanswered is because they don’t get the exact result they are looking for. I think that when we pray we should be open for Heavenly Father to give us whatever answer he has for us. Prayers are answered, even if the answer is no. i think that you just have to look at it another way. For example, a few months ago my ward had a ward fast and prayed for a young girl with cancer to get well. A few weeks later, the young girl passed away. Did God simply not answer our prayers by taking her home? I don’t think so. I think that he looked at what we were asking, for her to get better, and determined the best way to make her better. She is better, released from her pain and illness to be home with her father in heaven. Heavenly father didn’t have to make her cancer go away to make her better. It may not have been exactly what we hoped for, but it was still an answer to our prayers.

  20. Nice post Cynthia.

    I think that if our expectations for petitionary prayer are too high, it can lead to some troubling assumptions:

    –If a woman prays to conceive, and succeeds, then we assume it’s an answered prayer from God. (So far, so good.)

    –But if a woman prays to conceive, and fails, then we assume either a) the prayer was answered with a “no,” or b) the woman didn’t have enough faith.

    I’m afraid that under these assumptions, the woman who fails to conceive could mistakenly conclude that she lacks faith, and she might thereby lose faith in herself. Or she might take this as a “no” answer from God, and perhaps conclude that she is somehow not deserving in God’s eyes. Or even worse, she might conclude that her infertility (and every other unfair circumstance of life) is the cruel will of a capricious God, and thereby lose faith in God.

    So I’m more comfortable believing that God does not intervene in many aspects of our lives; not necessarily because it is his affirmative will that we suffer in a certain way, and not because we’re not deserving, and not because we don’t ask with enough faith. Rather, God is simply letting us deal with the consequences of living in a messy, fallen world. Perhaps it is all part of our mortal education.

    I am touched by the scriptures that promise that God is mindful of us and will answer when we ask — I just don’t know how far to apply this idea. So I like that idea that when we pray, it is not really for the purpose of bringing God’s will in line with ours, but rather the other way around (like SilverRain said in #4).

  21. Ronan, I agree with you — the D&C also notes that our hymns are a prayer to God. The “dead religion” swipe was a result of taking the monk’s statement at face value, as Cynthia did. I think you are probably right that faulty English made it sound like the monk doesn’t believe in petitionary prayer.

  22. So I’m more comfortable believing that God does not intervene in many aspects of our lives; not necessarily because it is his affirmative will that we suffer in a certain way, and not because we’re not deserving, and not because we don’t ask with enough faith. Rather, God is simply letting us deal with the consequences of living in a messy, fallen world. Perhaps it is all part of our mortal education.

    Well put. This is also how I see things.

  23. Garth Brooks says:

    Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers.

  24. Cynthia L. says:

    LOL!

  25. Kevin Barney says:

    There’s also a theological angle to this issue. I recall that, as an undergraduate, Blake Ostler published a terrific little article in Century 2, the then BYU student journal, with a title something like “The Absurdity of Petitionary Prayer to the Ultimate Absolute.” The gist was that under classical Christian theology, petitionary prayer simply doesn’t work. There are a variety of reasons for this, such as God being impassible [incapable of being acted upon, therefore he cannot be influenced in any way by your prayer for your lost car keys] or absolutely omniscient [which entails that he already knew from the dawn of creation whether you would find your car keys, and if he were to change that result now it would entail that he didn't really know the result eons ago].

    There is a disconnect between classical theologians and ordinary Christians in the pews. The latter generally believe in the efficacy of petitionary prayer, and the former generally allow them to hold this belief thinking it is psychologically good for them–but it can have no effect on God himself. (This is the kind of problem that led to the Open Theism movement.)

  26. Steve Evans says:

    We are seeing in this thread some vintage John F. It hearkens me back to 2004! Johnny, I love it when your words get away from you, it makes me feel normal.

  27. Aaron Brown says:

    JNS,

    What was the cheap and effective fertility drug that finally worked for you and Taryn?

    AB

  28. CE’s comments remind me of a recent conversation about coincidence. If we pray for something and it happens, then is it an answer to a prayer? Could it be coincidence? Would I have found my car keys even if I hadn’t prayed, and if I had, was that because I was going to find them anyway or because HF was going to lead me to them whether I prayed or not…

    On another note, sometimes I begin my prayers and then just stop talking all together. I just bask in the prayer itself. I have nothing to really say, I just like having that communication line open–sort of like being on the phone with someone you love but not talking. Just being together with God is enough.

  29. Cynthia L. says:

    That’s beautiful Melissa about just being with God and I know exactly what you mean.

  30. Steve Evans says:

    #27, Colt .45, King Cobra or Jagermeister will all work. That and Clomid.

  31. This has been an extremely interesting post as I’ve been thinking about it in relation to teaching my own children about prayer. Is prayer just supposed to be a rote petition (i.e., the missionary flip chart)? Jesus seems to be saying that prayer should also incorporate worship and laudatory aspects: “After this manner, pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven. Hallowed be thy name.”

    And yet, using phrases such as “We worship thee, we praise thy Name, we glorify thee” don’t fit well in the Mormon prayer tradition. I know that I would avoid using those phrases especially in public prayers for fear that it would sound like I was multiplying words and just trying to impress with my hollow religiosity. But it’s too bad, I think. Do we lose something when we only talk of “Father” this, and “Father” that, and forget that he is, well, God, and worthy of a little worship and praise?

  32. Aaron, Steve’s comment halfway hit the mark. Clomid worked wonders for us. The other stuff? I think I know what most of it is…

  33. Melissa S. (#28)–

    Regarding coincidence and answers to prayers, I’ll repeat a thought I posted in a comment at anothe blog a few months ago:

    -When good things happen to “good” people, it’s a blessing.
    -When bad things happen to “good” people, it’s a trial.
    -When good things happen to “bad” people, it’s luck.
    -When bad thinks happen to “bad” people, it’s justly deserved punishment.

    In summary: It’s possible to believe that God is responsible for almost anything that happens to anyone. But as I said in my comment #20, I think this leads to very unhealthy assumptions about the nature of God. The same things that lead some to believe that “God sent rain” and “God helped me find a job” also allows people to wonder “How could God allow those shootings?” or even worse, conclude that “God sent the hurricane to punish the sinners in New Orleans.”

  34. Aaron Brown says:

    Yeah, I was hoping you were going to rattle off something I hadn’t heard of. In our case, Clomid didn’t work, and if I recall correctly, it had unpleasant side-effects, and is associated with scary health problems if taken too many times. Fortunately, we were eventually able to conceive without drugs at all. Still not sure what happened there.

    Interesting that no one recommended Clomid to you guys. I think Clomid is all we heard about from specialists when we first pursued fertility treatments years back.

    I am apparently incapable of commenting without threadjacking.

    AB

  35. StillConfused says:

    #27 — Don’t want to get pregnant

  36. Rechabite says:

    Along these same lines, this mini-sermon changed the way I approach prayer:

    What if He knows prayer to be the thing we need first and most? What if the main object in God’s idea of prayer be the supplying of our great, our endless need—the need of Himself? What if the good of all our smaller and lower needs lies in this, that they help to drive us to God?

    Hunger may drive the runaway child home, and he may or may not be fed at once, but he needs his mother more than his dinner. Communion with God is the one need of the soul beyond all other need; prayer is the beginning of that communion, and some need is the motive of that prayer. Our wants are for the sake of our coming into communion with God, our eternal need….

    So begins a communion, a talking with God, a coming-to-one with Him, which is the sole end of prayer, yea of existence itself in its infinite phases. We must ask that we may receive; but that we should receive what we ask in respect of our lower needs, is not God’s end in making us pray, for He could give us everything without that. To bring His child to His knee, God withholds that man may ask.

    – George MacDonald, “Why Pray?” from The Creation in Christ

  37. Cynthia L. says:

    Y’all be sure to check out this video from the monks’ collection. May change your view of monks…

  38. I do appreciate the comments made so far.

    I have had recent evolving thoughts on prayer. I think that we might benefit from recognizing that not all speaking with God is prayer.

    I like the oft quoted part of the Bible Dictionary: “Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other.” I think prayer is that sacred communion, that sacrament, where those two wills meet. I think that this can involve doxology, the “Just being together with God” (#29), the earnest seeking for His will, thanks, praise etc. etc.

    But I think another important aspect in our relationship with Deity might be the just talking with God. Perhaps we can consider the possibility that not all our communication with God is the sacrament of prayer, but that some is just to talk.

    On the same token, I have cried out to Jesus, knowing that we pray only to the Father. I have spoken to Heavenly Mother or relayed messages to deceased ancestors in longing. Surely this is not praying, but don’t feel that I am forbidden from the communication.

    Perhaps this distinction will allow us to understand why we pray: to bring us to be one with the Father, as Jesus is one with Him. Perhaps this distinction can teach us why prayer is so essential.

    I’ve only been thinking about the distinction between prayer and just communicating recently. I would be interested in others’ thoughts.

  39. I like this distinction–there are those prayers I make which are born of a broken heart and contrite Spirit, and then there are those prayers that are simple conversations.

  40. Great post Cynthia. I, too, have been thinking a lot about prayer lately.

    I now frequently struggle on my knees not able to utter anything at all because of my inability to perceive what it is that I ought to be asking for. I readily pour out gratitude and the more I pray the more I feel like offering thanks should be central to my prayers, but I am left without words when it comes to requests.

    I think I am stumped because I find myself torn between our doctrine of personal agency and the phenomenon of cause and effect. It is emphatically taught that God cannot interfere with, limit, or direct our own agency. With this in mind I feel like any request I make, if fulfilled, would require God to interfere with the physical (and spiritual) world, changing things on my behalf, and inevitably interfering with the circumstances of myself and others, ultimately affecting our environments, the information available to us (which determine the decisions we make), and ultimately limiting and directing our available choices.

    In this sense I feel like any request I could possibly make to God necessarily interferes with (directs?) our agency, thereby contradicting the principle that seems to be so emphatically taught within the church. So lately, I’ve just been expressing a lot of gratitude in my prayers. Any request feels somewhat vain (not that I like this feeling—to the contrary, I find it to be a great emotional challenge, but it is not one that is readily dissolved by repetitious doctrinal claims regarding prayer, agency, or our purpose here on earth), because I do not want to ask God to do anything he cannot do, namely interfere with or affect the agency anyone—anyone at all.

    The most simple of petitions is rendered ineffective the moment I remind myself that God cannot interfere with or affect anybody’s will: “Please help Mr. So and So to be nice, and please help my wayward child to make good decisions.” Each of these relatively simple and common requests are in effect asking God to alter the wills of individuals. With this type of understanding I just can’t bring myself to utter these types of statements in my prayers lately.

    Has anybody faced a similar dilemma? Any tips to overcome this, or is this just a deeply personal problem that I need to pray more about? :)

  41. Cynthia L. says:

    SamR, thanks so much for your comment. Sounds like we have a lot in common on this issue, in particular the way you describe not being totally comfortable with some of your own thoughts on it.

    As far as the issue of agency, maybe you can pray for these things that you want, but with the idea that God could find a way to carry out your request that wouldn’t involve interfering with agency. For example, by arranging certain helpful experiences for the person that will lead them in the right direction. I dunno, not a silver bullet to be sure, but that’s just something I thought of while reading what you said.

    And of course praying about the struggle that you’re having with prayer can’t hurt! That’s kind of the conclusion I came to in my post, as well.

  42. Sam R, I too don’t ask for things that involve other people’s agency. But I ask for things for myself quite a lot. “Please help me to love my son as much as he deserves. Please help me to be better worker, mom, daughter, sister”… etc. Help me see the people around me and respond to them as your children. Help me to love. I find these type prayers always are answered.

    About other people I mostly pray that they’ll have the information they need to choose wisely, that they will see clearly, that they will understand the importance of their choices. It feels okay to me to pray for those things, not like I’m abrogating their agency, which would be evil.

  43. Latter-day Guy says:

    (Sorry if this constitutes a threadjack.) This is a fascinating post and conversation. It is something that I have long been interested in, and so, in the last year, with the help of a friend who is a Catholic priest, I incorporated the Divine Office (or Liturgy of the Hours), that is, the monastic method of prayer, into my prayer life. I have found it tremendously fulfilling; I do make some modifications, generally replacing the written prayer itself with an extemporaneous one of the Mormon variety. However, I have loved spending time chanting the psalms, other canticles, and their antiphons as a kind of prelude. I found that their language of praise was something that I had been missing. As a LDS child I was taught about thanking and asking, but not too much time was spent in the kind of praise that takes place in this method of prayer. I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested; feel free to adapt as you feel comfortable. Gregorian chant is a wonderful way to allow a scriptural text to unfold itself. (I had a treasured experience listening to a convent of nuns singing Paul’s words about charity, and I’ve never been able to read 1 Corintians 13 without thinking about it.)

  44. Thanks for sharing, Latter-day Guy. I’ll have to think about using the Office as a launching point. Do you use the “Liturgy of the Hours” in book form, or do you read from an internet site?

  45. Latter-day Guy says:

    I use a book called The Mundelein Psalter. It’s all in English (my Latin is not so great) and the chant tones are somewhat simplified. An internet site would work, I suppose, but the musical aspect would be difficult to work in, given that for newbies, like me, it is really helpful to have the psalms “pointed” or marked to correspond with the chant tones.

    It was a bit complex to learn at first, what with all the flipping to different pages, but the ribbons help with that. If there is a local Catholic church that has, for instance, Sunday Vespers, or at least a helpful priest, I’m sure that they would help you get the hang of it. (I would not recommend using the pre-Vatican II books. It’s much longer –– for instance, all 150 psalms are sung each week, as opposed to each month in the newer books –– and there are more complexities to navigating the books and the whole system.) I usually just use Morning and Evening prayer, sometimes with Night Prayer just before bed. The Office of Readings is quite long and involves lots of patristic readings which are interesting, but would –– for me –– require more doctrinal winnowing than I want while I pray. Anyway, the Office of Readings is not included in the books I have. :)

    I also like the fact that it is organized around the Liturgical year; the seasons of Advent and Lent, as preparatory to Christmas and Easter, are particularly helpful.

    Anyhow, I’m sure it isn’t for everyone (some of my family members were kind of freaked out by it at first) but it can be very beneficial (not least for adding a further element of habit and daily rhythm to prayer). At least, it has been for me.

  46. Brillian idea, Latter-day Guy. I think I’ll check this out. Thanks.

    By the way, have you ever tried to intone the psalm of Nephi? Now THAT would be cool.

  47. Brilliant idea, Latter-day Guy. I think I’ll check this out. Thanks.

    By the way, have you ever tried to intone the psalm of Nephi? Now THAT would be cool.

  48. Latter-day Guy says:

    LOL, funnily enough, yes, I have written a pointed version of Nephi’s psalm! It was a lot of fun to prepare.

  49. Martin Short says:

    Prayer…To me prayer is something different for everyone. We all pray differently and for good reason. My humble experience has led me to think that Prayer has always been an invitation to God to intervene in our lives and the value of a persistent prayer may be not so much that he will here us but that we will finally hear him.

  50. That’s beautiful and profound, Martin.

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