During the season of Lent, we observe chosen forms of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving for forty days. These ancient practices are considered the three pillars of Lent (represented below by a fish for fasting, clasped hands for prayer, and coins for almsgiving). Tradition tells us that we fast for the good of our bodies, we pray for the good of our souls, and we give alms for the good of our neighbor.
As we begin our Lenten journey together, we're focusing on one of these three pillars each week. Last week, we considered forms of fasting. This week, we're focusing on practices of prayer.
At our weekly meeting on Monday, our team engaged in a really vulnerable discussion about our personal practices of prayer. Though we each have our own unique experience with prayer, we noticed a number of common threads.
It was almost like our stories came together with a shared rhythm, despite their separate melodies.
Growing up, we were taught certain prayers and certain ways to pray. We learned to recite the Lord's Prayer alongside our families and our faith communities. We prayed, "Now I lay me down to sleep..." and "God is great, God is good..." We memorized the Sinner's Prayer, the 23rd Psalm, and the Prayer of St. Francis. We were taught forms or formulas for approaching prayer, like ACTS (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication). We prayed before meals and we prayed at the flagpoles outside of school, and we prayed before going to sleep each night. We said our prayers and we wrote our prayers, we prayed out loud and we prayed in silence.
And at some point, or maybe even all along the way, these approaches to prayer, though good and necessary, began to feel too small, too limiting. Our prayers in the presence of others sometimes felt performative, and concerns about the thoughts of others crept in despite our best efforts. Our prayers alone in silence sometimes felt aimless or even empty, and we found ourselves wondering whether we had missed some "right" way to do it. Our requests for ourselves or on behalf of others sometimes felt selfish or minute, yet simply praying "thy will be done" often didn't feel like enough.
We longed for prayer that felt deeper, more transformative, more engaging, more holistic.
We began to seek out new practices of prayer that weren't just about our own words—including some that weren't even about words at all. We learned to pray with our breath, with our bodies, with the rhythms of the liturgical year and the ancient words of church tradition. We prayed walking a labyrinth, or walking our neighborhood, or sliding our fingers over a string of beads. We practiced listening prayer and centering prayer, lectio divina, and the prayer of examen. We embraced prayer as practice—something we can grow into and that can grow with us. We began to pray in order to experience the presence of God, and we began to be changed by that presence.
We began to move—and are still moving—toward an experience of prayer that has come to feel more life-giving, more sustaining.
We believe this more life-giving, more sustaining experience is not just for scholars, mystics, or the super-spiritual—it is accessible to everyone. That's why I started Sacred Ordinary Days, why our team was drawn together, and why we joyfully do this work alongside you.
I'd love to hear about how you are approaching prayer in this season. Is there a new prayer practice you’re committing to for these 40 days? What has your experience been with prayer in general and how does that inform your Lenten practices of prayer? Do you find the same shared rhythm in your own story?