“Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
These words are from Scripture, in 1 Samuel, Chapter 3. The young boy Samuel, the future prophet, awakens the aged Eli because he thinks he has been called by him. But Eli recognizes that it is God calling Samuel. When it happens again, Eli says, tell the Lord you are listening.
In a very real sense, these are words we are all called to speak during Lent. During this season when we come close to the suffering Jesus, we desire to let the Lord know we are listening. This listening is called prayer.
During Lent, Catholics are challenged to embrace the season’s three “pillars” — prayer, fasting and almsgiving. A pillar supports something, and in this case, the three pillars, taken together, support a strong Lent, worthy of our call to renewal, repentance and growth.
Keep in mind that just as a three-legged stool collapses if one leg is taken away, so our Lent is not sturdy without an integration of these three principles of growth. Prayer is integral to a good Lent.
Sometimes, we mistakenly think of prayer as recitation, as somehow scripted for us. In reality, prayer is a relationship. Like Samuel, we are being called into dialogue with God. It is, in the words of the poet Mary Oliver, “a silence in which another voice may speak.”
Most of us yearn for a deepening prayer life, and Lent, with its focused 40 days, provides a great opportunity.
There are many forms of prayer and no one “best” way to pray. People often pray in different ways at different times in their lives.
But a good first step is a commitment to a time and place. Prayer may seem ethereal and other-worldly, but the reality is we need a practical, down-to-earth commitment, a real space, an actual time. We all have moments when we are moved to prayer. It’s how we bring that movement into our busy lives that counts.
Choose a time and stick to it. For busy parents, it may have to be early morning before others arise or the half-hour after kids are in bed. Maybe it’s a few minutes at lunchtime or a few minutes of quiet meditation after early morning Mass.
Place is also important. Find a peaceful, quiet place with no distractions. Perhaps consecrate your special place with a medal, rosary or holy card, or light a special candle.
Don’t set yourself up for failure by overcommitting to time. Choose a realistic time period that’s doable for you.
But how to pray? How to find God’s voice inside our noisy minds and busy schedules? How to quiet down and listen?
“Lectio divina” is an ancient form of prayer that’s accessible to all. The church provides daily Scripture readings that can be the gateway to prayer.
Choose a daily reading and go through it slowly. Pause and recall a word or phrase that particularly speaks to you. Spend time reflecting on what moves you. Then slowly read the entire text again to put the phrase into context and explore deeper meaning.
A third reading may bring you into dialogue with God about how the passage touches you. Listening to Scripture reflectively gives the Spirit a chance to speak.
Another helpful use of Scripture is sometimes called “Gospel contemplation.” St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, urged praying with the imagination by selecting a Gospel passage, reading it carefully and then putting yourself into the experience.
Perhaps you can imagine yourself the Samaritan who stops to help the wounded victim, or perhaps you are the Levite passing by or a bystander. Use your imagination to re-create the entire scene — the weather, the scents filling the air, the sense of fear in the wounded man. See what Jesus might teach you as you become one with a Gospel passage.
During Lent, many find the Stations of the Cross a helpful prayer that can lead you into a deep experience of Christ’s passion and a deeper love for him. Or perhaps committing to a time of eucharistic adoration will help you find the intimacy and silence that bring you to prayer.
Others may find that with spring riding the coattails of Lent into April, a daily prayer walk is helpful. Nature can inspire prayer in many, while for others a walk through the neighborhood may be too distracting.
The “examen” is a powerful daily prayer. It allows you to review the preceding 24 hours with gratitude, focusing on what was life-giving and what was not. The “examen” helps you examine where you felt the hand of God and how you responded to God’s will and where you fell short. More detailed directions for the “examen” can be found online.
No matter the prayer method you choose, a prayer journal helps. After you have prayed, write down what you have felt and heard during prayer.
Choose the method that is best for you. The important thing to remember is that God is in control and is infinitely merciful and gracious towards our failings and our efforts.
Caldarola is a freelance writer and a columnist for Catholic News Service.