Learning to Pray 'Better'

I was listening to a great lecture series on the nature of prayer and I thought I’d put a little of what I learned here on the blog. The speaker, Father Herbie Alphonso, was pointing out the absolutely ridiculous ways we look at prayer and expect to get ‘good’ at it. I found this example helpful…

We never question the discipline of a great musician. We would find it absurd to ask them why they have spent so much time practicing scales and positions and not simply devoted their life to ‘jamming.’ Obviously, a musician needs to learn the basic disciplines of an instrument before having the freedom to play whatever they choose, and to add their own flavor to the music. Likewise, we would find it equally bizarre to ask a person with no musical background to provide us with an individual interpretation of Beethoven’s 3rd Piano Concerto in C minor – they simply couldn’t do it.

Why are we the exact opposite when it comes to prayer? Why do we refuse to accept this basic truth where God is concerned? For example, what Christian doesn’t ask, “How am I supposed to learn to pray,” and then immediately allow no time for prayer anywhere in their day? We expect to learn without practice. That’s silly. But, even sillier is the fact that we expect to have the patience to practice without having a deep desire to learn. Even the pianist who drills and drills must have a desire to learn the scales (even if sometimes that isn’t very obvious). The same must be true for prayer: practice and doing cannot be separate from one another; if we want to learn to pray, we must simply pray, and if we pray, we must be willing to practice our prayer in deeper and deeper ways.

So how do we find the time to fit all this prayer into our day? (This wouldn’t be a Catholic answer without a little paradox, eh?) Saint Paul tells us quite plainly how to do it: pray without ceasing. Pray without stopping. Pray constantly. If we do this, we won’t have to worry about finding time, since all of our time will be occupied by the thing that matters most. If we spend our whole day in prayerful communion with God – in that deep friendship with God – we will both learn to pray ‘better,’ and desire to pray more. You can’t have one without the other.