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Pilgrim’s Progress: What is prayer?

by Glory Enyinnaya

Prayer has famously been described as Conversation with God. I like to think of it as the lifting up of my heart, mind and soul to God. It sounds corny until you try it and discover that it’s one of life’s most liberating experiences.

Let’s start with lifting up your heart. That restless, ever-searching, never-sated organ. Ever wonder why nothing is ever enough? The greatest triumph eventually wilts, the best love affair has its dull moments and as for money, you can never have enough – you can always do with more. Why is no created thing big enough to fill the human heart? Philosophers have pondered this question for ages and come to the conclusion that it’s probably because it was made to be filled with The Uncreated.  St Augustine put it best when he said ‘’You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.’’ Prayer gives our hearts that contact with the Transcendent God that refines and purifies it, ultimately lifting us to our greatest dignity as imago Dei, the image of God.

Lifting up your mind, hmm. That sounds less ethereal. At least most of us can and will admit that we have minds (pretty good ones, at that) Praying with the mind is Mental Prayer. If we’re to make any progress in our spiritual journey, Mental Prayer is indispensable. What is it, though? It involves letting our powers of reason roam around a passage of the Gospel asking questions such as ‘’What strikes me? What does it mean? What does it tell me about Christ, the Church, the meaning of life, how to be a Christian? What does it mean for me? What is its relevance in terms of my responsibilities, struggles and personal issues?’’ (Bartunek, 2007) It helps you move from reading the Bible and just nodding along ‘’Uh huh, that’s right’’ and actually forces you to connect personally with the words of Christ.

Finally, lifting up your soul. Modern society would like to deny that man has a soul. Emotions, impulses, cravings, yes. But an immortal soul? Come on – there’s no proof of that. I’m not going to get into a debate about whether or not man has a soul (I’ll save that for another post) As I’m just casually discussing Christianity, I’ll assume the popular religious stance – which is that man has a soul and that that soul is capable of contacting the Divine. Mystics such as St Teresa of Avila (a Spanish nun) have described the soul as an ‘’interior castle’’ which gets progressively brighter as one’s prayer life deepens. Isn’t that a worthy New Year resolution? ‘’This year, my soul shall acquire several degrees of luminosity as I advance in holiness.’’ Seeing as it’s about the only thing we have that will survive the corrupting influence of death, dedicating quality time to improving it definitely makes more sense than say, getting a six-pack or perfect abs.

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