Rev. Don Owens, former chaplain to St. Anselm of Canterbury Church of Norman, Oklahoma – the Episcopal college ministry for the University of Oklahoma – once broke prayer into four forms: verbal, physical, contemplation, and visualization.
Verbal prayer is the form most familiar to us. The Episcopal Catechism describes seven kinds of prayer, any of which could be verbal. Additionally, St. Augustine of Hippo said that singing is praying twice [paraphrased], which means that when we chant the Psalms or sing the hymns, we are also praying.
The second form is through our physical actions. This could be through whatever liturgical actions (e.g., kneeling or bowing our head) we observe during corporate worship; remembering that the word “liturgy” is Greek, and is translated as “the work FOR the people” or “the work OF the people.”
This holy work could also occur when we serve others. This is exemplified by Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker’s Movement, which was founded during the Depression, and continues to provide direct aid to the poor and homeless. The Episcopal Church observes her passing into God’s Glory on November 29.
Another physically active style of prayer is the prayer walk, which is best represented by the labyrinth. St. Paul’s is planning a labyrinth walk to take place during Advent. I encourage you to watch for the date, and sample this type of prayer.
Another form of prayer that involves physical action is the use of prayer beads. The two types of prayer beads you’ll find in our bookstore are the Roman Catholic Rosary and the Anglican Chaplet (which goes by several names). You’ll note the Roman Catholic version has a different design, with more beads. This version meditates on a set cycle of scenes from the life of Jesus while alternating between multiple recitations of the Lord’s Prayer and the Hail Mary. By contrast, the Anglican version is very Protestant, in that the person praying determines which prayer(s) are repeated on the beads.
The repetition used with prayer beads could lead to what the Rev. Ron Del Bene calls “breath prayer” – this is the point where whatever prayer you’ve chosen gets written on your heart (to borrow a phrase from the prophet Jeremiah). This type of prayer typically leads to the third type of prayer, contemplation.
This third type of prayer is a prayer beyond words. The author of the fourteenth century English guide The Cloud of Unknowing described this contemplative style of prayer as aiming the heart to God, like an arrow. There are a five kinds of prayer listed in our Catechism which could be contemplative: adoration, praise, thanksgiving, and oblation. You might also be meditate on various types of iconography – from the cross in our sanctuary, or our stained glass windows, or even formal Icons (most from the Orthodox tradition). Be mindful that you are using this iconography as a sort of window to God; you are not worshiping the object – you are using the object as a sort of spiritual technology (to borrow the Dali Lama’s phrase) to lead you to the divine.
The final form is Ignation Contemplation. In his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola directed his students to use all five of their senses to contemplate a scene from the life of Jesus. You might apply this version of contemplation to the scenes used in the Roman Catholic Rosary (which are called Mysteries in that context).
Why do we pray? I like the answer given in the book Walk in Love by Scott Gunn and Melody Wilson Shobe: to build our relationship with God. There is no right way to pray. All that is required is to show up, with an intention to focus our attention on the High Holy One.