Reflections on worrying about prayer

“I don’t know that I’ve ever felt the presence of God in prayer,” writes Jess in ‘Love and Salt: A Spiritual Friendship Shared In Letters’, “He seems to show up when we least expect him. But even if we don’t feel that presence, should we pray anyway?”

I worry about prayer – my prayer – my seeming inability or reluctance to pray as others do.

I was helping a youngster with her Religious Education homework – a page of prayers to learn by heart – litanies, ‘old-fashioned’ prayers with ‘old-fashioned’ words. And I felt bereft. I knew none of them by heart; had a passing familiarity with only one on the page. I don’t pray like this – am I wanting?

I sat in a group, reading a prayer from a card. One word leapt out and settled in my heart. I wanted to sit with it; listen to it; honour it; let it guide me. But I could hear the collective voices of the group continuing, so I rejoined them. I didn’t want to – is my prayer wanting?

I am in awe of those who pray in public. Muslims responding to the call to prayer; Buddhists climbing mountains on their knees; Christians following a cross on Good Friday; pilgrims walking the Way of St James. Such public affirmations of one’s love for the divine make my soul sing … and I join my prayer to their coat-tails. But I no longer participate in these outward displays of prayer – am I wanting?

Intercessory prayer worries me. When I hear of someone with terminal cancer; or in an induced coma; or seeking work, any work; or struggling to survive below the poverty line, I don’t know what to pray. I don’t know who to pray to, or what to ask for. My mind warns me of fashioning a God in the image of a generous benefactor, bending to my will. I ask that God be revealed in the actions of all involved. I ask that each person be filled with grace and blessing. (I make no specific prayer requests.) My prayer seems empty – a cop-out, wanting.

I came upon a group praying the rosary. So fast (to my unaccustomed ear) that I can barely distinguish the words. Perhaps that is as it should be – a mantra occupying the senses so the heart can reflect on sacred scripture. I hear prayers for those who have no-one to pray for them, and prayers for conversion. I know these intentions and these prayers are good. But I have no desire to pray in this way – am I wanting?

I pause before a work of art. Time seems to stand still – my heart races. I feel drawn into a loving embrace. I succumb. But this is not a ‘holy picture’, a religious work of art. It is of the secular world – the beautiful, creative, verdant, peopled secular world – each cell reflecting the image of the creator. I am in awe of this picture – is my prayer wanting?

Jess continues, “We can’t judge the fruits of any practice solely on the basis of our feelings.”

I worry – because I am human and I compare – but I reckon there is no need to worry. There are as many ways to pray as there are people who desire to pray. No one form of prayer is better or worse than another. Every form of prayer – silent or spoken; public or private; old-fashioned or modern; conscious or sub-conscious – is an intimate tete-a-tete with LOVE.


  • Liz Pearce, mother of 3 adult children, loves story, dollmaking, writing and silence.

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