Saturday 31 December 2011

Good habits and civilization - especially prayer


A devout life is not much about the flash of understanding but is mostly a matter of using insights into truth in building-up good habits; and this can be influenced by our will.

Modern society is a mechanism for inculcating bad habits, especially the habit of seeking instant pleasure, intoxications and distractions; a habit of regarding ourselves as passive recipients for 'entertainment'.

Against this we can inculcate Good habits - such as frequent participation in Holy Communion, reading of Scripture and devotional books (spiritual 'injections' as Fr Seraphim Rose called them), and most of all a habit of prayer.

I think that the use of one or a few repeated short prayers is especially valuable in modern conditions.

This practice is especially associated with Orthodox mysticism, and has a remarkable 'track record'; but it need not be Orthodox nor mystical.

The prayer chosen was traditionally drawn from scripture - the New Testament or Psalms or Prophecies. Or there is the Jesus Prayer - which has various versions.

The prayer is repeated and repeated whenever the need for prayer is remembered. There is no delay in finding a 'suitable' place or adopting a posture; as soon as the need is remembered the prayer is said (either quietly with the lips or in the mind).

Repetitions can be counted-off on the fingers - or with a device such as a prayer rope or rosary (maybe concealed in the pocket).

As the habit develops it will be found that sometimes the prayer comes to mind or is already running through the mind or being said unconsciously and without intention, and this is itself a reminder to pray consciously and with attention now.

The prayer can function as an alarm call; whenever we surface from the maelstrom of the modern world there is the prayer, ticking away, and reminding us of the real things.

A good habit to acquire!



Anonymous said...

Peter S. said…

On the methodic practice of ejaculatory prayer in a Christian Orthodox context, I would recommend the introductory works on prayer by Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh (Anthony Bloom), the remarkable spiritual compilation of Igumen Chariton of Valaamo, “The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology” – one of the greatest spiritual classics on Christian ejaculatory prayer, and considerably more accessible than the “Philokalia” – and, more generally, the various writings in translation of St. Theophan the Recluse, in my estimation perhaps the greatest Christian spiritual director of the last two centuries.

For an introduction to the methodic practice of ejaculatory prayer in a broader, world context, I would recommend Gray Henry & Susannah Marriot’s “Beads of Faith”, as well as the accompanying DVD of the same title. For a more scholarly treatment of the same, tied to source text, I would recommend the final colophon, “Invocation”, of Whitall Perry’s “A Treasury of Traditional Wisdom”.

Proph said...

I strongly endorse daily recitation of the rosary. In fact I think it (and the abundance of formulaic, targeted-purpose prayers in general) is one of Catholicism's greatest strengths, and aversion to such prayer one of Protestantism's greatest weaknesses.

I have a morning and evening prayer routine (which includes an Our Father, three Hail Marys, a Hail Holy Queen, a Glory Be, a Fatima Prayer, St. Gertrude's Prayer, and a Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel) which I offer in addition to some personally crafted prayers, that allow me to start each day by consecrating myself to His sacred heart. Very valuable.

A chief disadvantage is that recitation of these prayers can become so automatic that the mind begins to wonder and the prayers themselves become emptied of intentionality -- they thus require cultivation of great discipline. The prayers become "modular" and thus interchangeable; I have, in the past in a moment of absent-mindedness, started off by saying the first sentence of the Our Father and wound up finishing it with the last sentences of the Hail Mary. Especially with long prayer sequences such as the rosary, I find my mind going off in its own direction instead of reflecting on the mysteries of our redemption, even while my lips continue to speak the prayers without fail.