What is your favorite method of prayer?
To “pray without ceasing,” as St. Paul tells us (1 Thess. 5:17). To blend prayer with everything else. To make work a prayer. To overcome the separation between religion and life, the unfortunate idea we all have that “religion” is something different from life, something “pious” or “for religious people” or only for special times and places; something that ordinary sinners and cynics and selfish people dismiss.
The only way to do that — to overcome that superstition ― is with prayers that are unconscious rather than conscious, because it’s not psychologically possible to concentrate on praying while you are concentrating on solving math problems or catching a wave or swatting a fly. And when the prayers are conscious, and verbal, make them very short but frequent — such as “Yes, Lord” or “Fiat” or “Ad te, Domine” (offering it up). Or even a gesture: the Sign of the Cross if you are alone, or a salute (to help you remember who your Commanding Officer is) that does not look like a salute, and thus is not intrusive.
Your Morning Offering (of all your prayers, works, joys, and sufferings) establishes this; frequent reminders simply frequently remind you of it. You don’t have to be very pious or holy or contemplative or “religious” just to touch your forehead.
My second answer is praying Scripture, reading the Bible as prayer, conversing with God about it. It’s His love letter to you, after all. Like almost everybody else, my favorite Scriptures for prayer are the psalms, the prayer book God Himself gave us and the one Jesus and His disciples used, the one Jews have used for three thousand years.
The more you pray the psalms, the more you see in them, even the ones that seem at first hard and polemical and even self-righteous. God put them there for us to use. Just remember who your real “enemies” are: your own sins, and the evil spirits who tempt you.
My third answer is the Rosary, John Paul ll’s favorite prayer, too. It has power.
Our main problem is time: we resist giving time to God. So I take a five-minute hourglass, and I turn it upside down, and I pretend that the next five minutes is the only time I will have because I will die in five minutes. What do I say to God?
I tried setting a watch alarm to go off at 3:00 p.m. every day to remind me to take this holiest of all times, the time Christ died, to pray for a minute. But that didn’t work because I have ADD and I forgot to set it, and I didn’t hear it, and I goofed up setting it (I’m capable of messing up even the simplest mechanical device), and I eventually lost the watch. I tried to do it without an alarm but failed miserably.
Oh, and find some other prayer time besides first thing in the morning and last thing at night (though they should be your first brief thought of God and your last), because those are the two times when there are the most sleepy cobwebs in your brain. Give God a set amount of time every day. Start with something realistic and doable, such as five minutes, or even one; more is better than less, but something is better than nothing.
When, where, and how are not as important as just doing it.
What methods do you recommend for prayer and meditation?
Method is only 1 percent of the solution; 99 percent is to do it, to start, whichever method you use.
This is essential: just do it.
Here is a simple, nonthreatening, no-risk path to health and happiness, an open door right in front of us, and we turn away from it because we say we don’t have the time for it. We are slaves to time, or rather to false time, to clock time, to our schedule time.
But if you give God even a little bit of the loaves and fishes of your time, He will miraculously multiply them, and at the end of the day, you will feel that you have accomplished surprisingly much. On the other hand, if you grasp your loaves and fishes to yourself, they will not taste all that good, or they will rot, or they will diminish. It works that way every time.
But in order to “stop and smell the roses,” you first have to stop doing the stuff you are doing, whatever it is. Ask yourself honestly and sanely (even insane people have a well of sanity in them):
How important is that stuff?
Are you God?
Will the universe cease to exist if you take your hands off it for fifteen minutes?
My favorite sermon of all time is the shortest one I ever heard. (I have ADD and get bored very quickly.) God preached it to St. Catherine. He said, in effect, “I will now sum up all of divine revelation in four words, in just two two-word sentences. Here is everything I have been trying to get across to you every moment of your life and in every page in the Bible: I’m God; you’re not.”
The reason we have to keep returning to meditation is that we keep forgetting both parts of that sermon.
This article is from a chapter in Ask Peter Kreeft: The 100 Most Interesting Questions He’s Ever Been Asked. It is available from Sophia Institute Press as well as your local Catholic bookstore.