How I Pray

Hands folded in prayer outside.

I’ve already written about my relationship with prayer a couple times for The Ruined Report.

In A Modification to the Hail Mary, I wrote:

For me, belief in the resurrection and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ don’t come easily, which makes it hard for me to pray directly to Jesus or to God. That’s why I love the Hail Mary: it feels more honest to ask Mary to pray on my behalf than to directly petition Jesus myself.

I expanded on that in Two of My Favorite Prayers, where I wrote:

For similar reasons, I love set prayers more than open-ended, free-flowing prayers from the heart. Often, when I try to pray directly to God in my own words, I end up paying more attention to my wording and my own awkwardness than to God or my own spirit. When I pray with set prayers like the Hail Mary or the Our Father, I find that it is much easier for me to pay attention to the prayer itself and to be more open with God.

I love set prayers, and the Hail Mary in particular, but they do have their limitations. They are not always the best way to reflect on where God is active in my own life, and it can be too easy to recite set prayers by rote as my attention wanders. But as I’ve written before, praying directly to Jesus or to God with an open-ended, free-flowing prayer just doesn’t work for me. So what am I to do?

I’ve developed my own method for prayer. Admittedly, this might qualify more as a reflection than a prayer, but it’s what works for me, and in my mind, I do address this reflection to God. Here’s how I pray.

You may notice that this reflection is in some ways similar to an Ignatian examen. That’s by chance! I actually started praying this way before I understood what the examen is. That said, the examen is a great method to reflect on how God is present in your life and to connect with God, and those are the same goals of my prayer, so maybe the similarity isn’t entirely by chance.

I like to begin this reflection by reminding myself that I am in the presence of an all-loving God. (Admittedly, that’s something I picked up from my time in JVC.)

  1. Compassion. I try to empathize with and pray for at least two persons who are having a hard time.
  2. Joy. I take a moment to feel joy for at least a couple things in my own life. I also try to foster joy for someone else’s fortune. (I often feel jealousy or self-pity when things go well for others, so this is my attempt to practice the opposite.)
  3. Gratitude. I foster gratitude for at least two things in my own life. (These often arise from the things bringing me joy, but not always. For example, hanging out with my partner brings me joy, and I’m grateful to have her in my life. Those are similar but distinct emotions. Or on the other hand, a particular task at work may be hard — not a joy — but I can still be grateful for the opportunity to grow and improve my skills.)
  4. Orientation. This one is more challenging to explain. I ask myself: what is the current orientation of my heartmind? Sometimes I know this right away: maybe I’m worried about something or obsessing about a hobby. Other times, this isn’t immediately clear. If it’s not clear, I’ll ask myself: if you had one wish in this moment and if it had to be selfish (no world peace!), what would it be? This part of my prayer is essentially metacognition: it helps me notice what I’m focused on and paying attention to. I find it interesting to see how my answers to this question change from day to day and from week to week.
  5. Desolation and Consolation. Where am I feeling disconnected from God? Where am I feeling close to God? (Thinking about consolations feels good, but reflecting on desolations is often more interesting. For example, let’s say that I’m not finding God in my work. That raises the question: how can I be more open to encountering God in my work?)
  6. Recitation. I recite a set prayer or two of my choice. I typically switch off between the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Bahai Short Obligatory Prayer, and my remix of the Bahai Short Obligatory Prayer. (See my post Two of My Favorite Prayers for more on that.)

Sometimes, but not too often, I’ll also try to answer one of these questions:

  1. Are there any gripes that you want to hold up before God and the universe?
  2. What would you have done differently today (or yesterday)?
  3. What is an act of kindness that you plan to do today (or tomorrow)?
  4. What is preventing you from being your best self?
  5. What have you been worshipping? (Possible answers include: God, money, status, a really good band, cool tech gadgets, etc.)
  6. What does God want for you today? What is God calling you towards today?

That’s how I pray. That’s how I reflect on my life, talk to God, and try to listen to God. I find this structure helps me to actually pray, to stay focused on prayer, and to connect with God as best I can.

Most days, I start my day with a morning walk, and as I walk, I usually work through this reflection. It’s a nice way to focus my attention outside myself, to remember and pray for those around me, to foster joy and gratitude, and to look for where God is active in my life — or for where I should remember to let God in.

As people smarter than me have observed, life is the sum total of what we pay attention to. I walk through this reflection each day (well, most days) because it helps me pay attention to the things that are really important: the people around me, the good things happening in my life and in the world, and God.

Featured image by Ümit Bulut on Unsplash.

“How I Pray” by Cam Coulter is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

About Cam Coulter

Cam Coulter is a writer and accessibility nerd, among other things. After their year in JVC, Cam spent two years as a live-in assistant at L'Arche Heartland and one year in China through the Maryknoll China Teachers Program. They currently work as a digital accessibility consultant, and they think incessantly about ethical technology, speculative fiction, and intentional community. Cam also blogs on their personal website, where you can find more information about them: