How Do I Pray? Five Steps to Spiritual Prayer
1. Quiet down and place yourself in the presence of God.
This is one of the most difficult parts of praying - to let the noise and busy-ness of the day fall to the side so that we can quiet our heart, our mind and our body. It helps to remind ourselves that God is always with us, to picture ourselves opening our heart to Him, to imagine Jesus gazing down on us from heaven or sitting near to us, the same way a friend would be present.
2. Ask God for his help.
The beauty of Christian prayer is that we're not expected to do it on our own, as if God is waiting for us to reach him. Rather, he wants to help us. So in this step we simply and honestly ask the Lord for his help in trying to pray. If there are particular things that are weighing us down or distracting us, simply hand them over to the Lord.
3. Choose a passage from one of the Gospels and begin meditating on the scene.
Here, we use our imagination to construct the entire scene in our mind. Say, for example, we choose to meditate on Luke 23:32-38 where Jesus forgives his persecutors from the cross. In meditating on this passage, we imagine the whole scene, that we are on Mount Calvary, and that we see and hear all that was done or said on the day of his passion. Some Christians are hesitant to use their imagination in this way when they pray, as if it were forbidden, but this is actually one of the oldest and most traditional ways of praying as Catholics. In using our imagination in this way we keep our mind fully engaged so we are less likely to get distracted. It often helps to pray over the same passage several times, allowing our mind to flesh out more details with each reading.
4. Using our intellect to lead us deeper.
After we have fully imagined the scene, we now use our intellect to consider what we have read in the passage and what we have envisioned in our minds. In a calm way, we step through the scene again. If a particular image or phrase from our meditation struck us, we should stay with it, asking God to teach us more through that image or phrase. Perhaps we are struck by the picture of Jesus, bruised and beaten, walking to his death, accompanied by two criminals. We might envision the expression on his fellow prisoners' faces - the good thief beginning to repent of his sins and the other one hardened in a look of fear and defiance. We might focus on Jesus walking - in pain, but peaceful knowing he was in his Father's hands. "How do I react to suffering?" may be the question that comes to our minds. "How did Jesus act, and how can I take on more of his attitude?" As long as a particular image or phrase strikes us, we should remain with it, dwelling on it, asking the Lord to teach us through it.
5. Letting the meditation influence our daily life.
In meditating on Jesus going to the cross, we might find ourselves feeling a sense of sorrow over what he suffered, or loving Jesus more for what he has done for us. We may feel moved to become more like him in forgiving those who hurt us. These feelings, or "affections", are the product of our meditations, and we can readily recognize in them the work of the Holy Spirit opening our hearts. The next step is to transform these feelings into particular resolutions for our daily life - little things we can put into practice to help us live a better Christian life. For instance, if we want to become more forgiving, then we can make a resolution not to be hurt by those who treat us poorly or offend us. It is important to transform the feelings we have into concrete actions.
We should conclude our time of prayer by thanking God for the time spent with him, for the ways he may have touched our hearts. We should also ask him for his help in trying to put our particular resolutions into practice in daily life and also ask him for the help to be able to set aside more time to be with him in prayer.
These five steps of scriptural prayer are taken from (and adapted in part) from Patricia Mitchell's The Enlightened Imagination - Meditating on the Life of Jesus with St. Francis de Sales.