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Beginning Prayer

When I started getting to know the people in my parish, I heard a few referring to their “Holy Hour.”  Though I had been raised Catholic, I had never heard this term before, and it piqued my interest.

According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Holy hours are the Roman Catholic devotional tradition of spending an hour in Eucharistic Adoration in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.” But I’ve noticed that many devoted Catholics use the term “Holy Hour” to simply describe time they spend with Jesus, whether or not it is in front of the Holy Eucharist.

At first, this very idea was mind boggling.  A whole hour for prayer?  Every day?  At the time, spending even five minutes in daily prayer seemed like a great accomplishment.  My day was filled with so many things–the time I spent getting ready for work, at work, commuting, making dinner, and getting ready for bed.  I didn’t have time to add exercising to my routine, much less an hour of prayer.  Prayer felt obligatory, like something I knew I should do, not something I wanted to do.

My other challenge was that I did not really know how to pray.  Whenever I sat down to pray, I had a few things to thank God for, some things to ask him for, both of which did not take much time.  If I tried to spend more than a few minutes, my mind wandered in every direction, which didn’t seem fruitful.

However, I was coming to understand that prayer wasn’t just an important part of developing my faith; it was the primary way of developing my relationship with God.  Prayer essentially was a conversation between God and myself, and it is difficult to have a relationship with someone you don’t make time to talk to.

So, I decided to start small and plan just a little prayer time into my routine.  While prayer shouldn’t be just a routine, setting a time every day that I would pray was a critical strategy for me to create space for God.  Since I was trying to get past the five minute mark, I began by splitting up my prayer time: five minutes in the morning, and five minutes in the evening.

I also experimented with different ways to pray.  For me, writing has always brought clarity of thought, so I bought a journal and wrote down my prayers.  What was especially helpful was that this journal contained a bible quote on every other page, which I used to “jump start” my prayer, whether it was in gratitude or contemplation.  Over time, I began to see all the connections in my life, the way the Lord had loved me by providing family, opportunities, and spiritual gifts.

In the evening, I also sat in front of a crucifix and simply spent time in silence, listening for God.  This was an especially helpful way to quiet my mind and shed expectations that I had for myself in prayer.

To my pleasant surprise, I found myself wanting to spend a little more time praying.  My five minutes each of journaling and sitting in silence became ten minutes each.  At this time, I also began learning about different types of prayer, of reflecting, of listening to God.  

Lectio Divina is a scriptural type of prayer, in which we read God’s Word and open ourselves up to what He is trying to say to us.  It can be used in Bible Studies as well as personal prayer.  The Hallow Prayer app offers a nice breakdown of this prayer on their website, and they also have a guided Lectio Divina in their app in which users can choose how long they want to pray.  Lectio Divina is now one of my go-to prayer methods.  This usually last between 20-30 minutes.

Another type of prayer I sometimes use in the evenings is the Examen, which was developed by St. Ignatius.  It involves reflecting on our day and noticing the way God is acting in our lives. lays out the steps of the Examen and has other great resources.  St. Ignatius himself led a robust prayer life, and the Jesuits are great to learn from as well.

Beyond learning how to pray, I found that there were barriers keeping me from fruitful prayer.  One thing that is essential when coming to prayer is acknowledging the things that distract us, then setting them aside.  Sometimes we need to just sit still or breathe before jumping into a conversation with the Lord.  

As I was building up my own Holy Hour, it became apparent that I didn’t have to spend a whole hour in a constant stream of consciousness, which was perhaps why I originally found the concept so intimidating.  Now I typically spend 20-30 minutes praying Lectio Divina, 15-20 minutes writing in my prayer journal, and 10-15 minutes listening to a guided prayer on the Hallow app—if there’s time!  

I have also discovered that the more I practice praying, the more that I am faithful to my routine, the more time I desire to spend in any one type of prayer.  God has shown me the myriad of ways He has created for us to spend time with Him.  If we just look, if we just seek Him, we will discover not our obligation, but our desire to spend our time in His Holy presence.


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