How do you pray? That is a question I am asked often, and my answer is one that I received from a wise teacher I knew: “Pray the way it works.” What my teacher was saying is that, as in life, there are differences in temperament, in capacity, in values, in culture, in opportunity, and on and on.

We have different intentions at different times when we pray. There are times when we are desperately seeking solace when the loss, we suffer rips our world apart. We seek comfort in those times we are full of fear. We look for hope during times when hope and even sanity seems so remote. We give thanks for our joys and blessings. We ask for guidance when we are confused. We welcome the moment of true gratitude and awe in the world. We seek mercy and forgiveness for our mistakes. And we pray for awakening. We pray for ourselves, those we love and all living beings.

There is no wrong way to pray. Even in those times we forget that prayer is not a shopping list for the entitled. However, there are cautions. If we pray for harm to come to another, that is actually what we call to ourselves.

Prayer does not always bring solace, comfort or peace to our minds and hearts. There are times when prayer disturbs, displaces, disrupts our comfortable views and perspectives. It must, if we are to grow and develop spiritually, if we are to come closer to God. Prayer is a skill. Commitment and practice on a daily basis, changes us from the inside out.

There are many variations on ways to pray. Two that I would like to share that I’m finding helpful these days are the prayers of biblical scholar and theologian Walter Brueggemann in his book Prayers for a Privileged People.[1] These prayers remind us of our privilege and misuse of power.

Second, the Active Prayer Practice from Contemplative Outreach.[2] The active prayer is an aspiration drawn from Scripture and is short, usually six to twelve syllables. The saying of the syllables is synchronized with one’s heartbeat. While some people like to use a variety of aspirations for this purpose, it is easier to work a single aspiration into the subconscious. Some examples follow and there are many more on the site.

O Lord, come to my assistance.
Lord, increase my faith.

Abide in my love.
Open my heart to Your love.

My Jesus, mercy.
May my being praise you, Lord.

Open my heart to your love
Holy Spirit, pray in me.

Lord, I give myself to you.
Lord, do with me what You will.

Pray the way that works — but pray.

[1] Brueggemann, Walter; Prayers for A Privileged People (Abington, 2008)