I couldn't possibly do just one blog post of prayer - I'm finding there is just so much to read and learn and try. I thought I'd be moving on to another discipline by now, but it looks like I'll be here for awhile. I've been struggling with prayer for quite some time now, especially when put on the spot in a group. I go through the motion of praise and thanks and pleases that I think are expected of me, but I don't feel anything. I know emotions are not to be trusted, and I know I am explaining this badly, but I feel like there's a block. I know God is out there and listening, but I'm not getting through to him, and he's not getting through to me. And when it comes to praying for others, the will is definitely there but I never know what to say. "Please be with so and so" sounds really lame, as does telling him what to do to fix the problem, like he needs my helpful suggestions.
So I set out to experiment with other forms of prayer outside of the basic formula used in the evangelical church. I like the word experiment, it makes me feel like this cool scientist in a lab coat tapping away at a computer and spouting technobabble. And some of the terms I read seem like technobabble until you break them down. I also like the words Spiritual Exercises, because it implies strengthening, toning, shaping, increasing endurance. Then my cool scientist takes off her lab coat and sports arms and abs of steel. I bought a little calendar organizer to record each days physical and spiritual exercises - just a brief line of what I did each day, so after a few months I can get an overview of what I've been working on with body and soul.
Don't get me wrong, petitionary prayer is certainly important. Richard Foster has an excellent chapter on it that I will be returning to in a while, and experimenting with some of the things he suggests.
I tried structural prayers, using the book of common prayer, and The Divine Hours, and they helped a bit, focusing on God and incorporating scripture into the prayers. The hours is especially good for travel, when you don't have much time or space to yourself, and now it comes in a portable version with one week of prayers.
Right now I'm experimenting with contemplative prayer. The silence/solitude and meditation that I've been working on are building blocks to this. I tried centering prayer as well, where you just concentrate on one word, but apparently I think too much and so meditation works better for me. My current favorite tool is Sacred Space, a daily prayer site takes you through several frames of prayer and scripture, based on the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, which I'm studying now. According to Tony Jones, Sacred Space is "actually a hybrid of Ignatian prayer leading to a lectio divina on the lectionary-assigned Scripture passage for the day." I found the website from his book, which was written in 1999, and the site is still going strong. I think part of it appeals to the geek in me to be praying at my computer. I like how you select the time to move on to the next frame, choosing how much time you will spend thinking and praying in between. I also like how it encourages you to imagine Jesus sitting in the chair next to you and to turn and tell him what you're feeling. I've actually been switching on the computer in the morning looking forward to prayer, which is a big step, for a baby.