Each new calendar year, I’m amazed at all the resolutions I see in newspaper ads, on social media, and in conversations among friends. Most involve health and fitness, of course. I admit this is likely the one area of my life that is lacking the most. What has always mattered to me, though, is prayer.
My older two daughters are at an age in which they think prayer involves memorization and recitation, but Ben and I are trying to teach them that true prayer is a conversation with God — both speaking and listening to Him in their hearts. It’s about a relationship, a friendship, and we want to spend time with those whom we love.
I believe that prayer is something we can rediscover this year. Here is what I have learned and what I’d like to share with you about how to grow in your prayer life.
Move Beyond Vocal Prayer
Many of us, myself included, have developed certain devotions to novenas or chaplets or memorized prayers, like the Our Father or Rosary or Divine Mercy chaplet. These are all good and beautiful, often serving as consolations in times of spiritual aridity or when we are overcome with the shock of new grief and cannot find the energy for spontaneous words.
If vocal prayer, or the recitation of what is familiar, becomes our sole means of praying, we are missing out on eight deeper levels of prayer, according to the mystical theology of St. Teresa of Avila. In Interior Castle, she describes these deeper levels, which lead the soul to union with God.
Believe it or not, that’s what God wants from all of us: to reach full union with Him on earth. But it’s rare, because we get stuck in vocal prayer and eventually get “bored” with praying. We can’t seem to move beyond what’s familiar and what we think we “have” to accomplish each day.
If you want to revitalize your relationship with God, be open to the musings and movements of the Holy Spirit in your heart. It may take some time at first and be a little uncomfortable, but stick with it, and you will find yourself drawn to new insights and praises that you never before experienced.
Spend at Least Ten Minutes in Daily Meditation
Christian meditation seems intimidating and even daunting to a lot of people, because we think we don’t have the time or mental capacity to engage in deeper thought. But meditation (or mental prayer, as it’s also known) is only the second level of prayer, after vocal prayer. It’s pretty basic.
How do we meditate? If you’re a beginner at Christian meditation, start by gathering a collection of holy art, images, or statues. Pick one per day. Better yet, ask the Holy Spirit to guide you to whichever one He wants you to ponder. Then gaze upon it and reflect on the image. If you gain new insights or thoughts that lead you to peace, joy, or a greater love and humility, God is working in your mind and heart to grow in virtue.
As the practice of meditation becomes more familiar to you, you may be able to engage in thought of holy images from reading Scripture or other sacred readings. Strive for at least ten minutes of meditation per day, and you will be astounded at how much closer you are to God.
Understand the Deeper Forms of Union With God
For lack of space, I can’t go into great detail here, but suffice it to say that the mystics wrote about nine levels of prayer that each of us (yes, everyone) is capable of achieving in this life. I wrote about the first two – vocal prayer and meditation – but there are seven other types I will briefly mention here.
- Affective prayer: mainly operates out of one’s will and moves the heart to greater love for God; grows from regular daily meditation and spiritual reading. Ask yourself, “How would Jesus express His love in this situation?”
- Prayer of simplicity: also called acquired recollection, it is born from daily solitude and quiet; it is simply a movement of one’s heart toward love of God from a gaze upon a sacred relic or icon. There’s no formula for this type of prayer but is rather very natural to one who meditates on a daily basis.
- Infused contemplation: God initiates this first level of mystical prayer; we cooperate with God as He directs the movements of our thoughts and affections. God is active and we are passive.
- Prayer of quiet: affects the will and gives the soul immense consolations and spiritual sweetness followed by great joy; can happen while in the midst of working or traveling and not necessarily when one is exclusively setting aside time for prayer.
- Prayer of union: all interior faculties (intellect, will, memory, and imagination) are captivated by God; usually lasts a short time because of its intensity.
- Prayer of conforming union: also called ecstatic union; the interior faculties are exclusively focused on God, but exterior senses are still operating normally.
- Prayer of transforming union: the highest grade of mystical prayer we are capable of achieving on earth, also called “spiritual marriage;” the soul is so infused with God’s light and love that there are no longer separate periods of mystical ecstasy but rather a complete and unending communion with God.