Over the past few years, I’ve struggled to have a prayer life that was meaningful to me. Being drawn deeply by liturgical traditions and monastic spirituality, I’ve come to find my prayer life to be written for me in the form of liturgical prayer and daily offices. I’ve pushed myself to wake up early and say multiple offices a day–sometimes pushing myself to chant them out of a sense of traditional duty. While this has taught me much about prayer, and is a beautiful practice in our tradition, I’ve used it to rob myself of an authentic prayer life that opens and inspires my heart and leads me closer to God.
It wasn’t until recently–very recently–that I noticed this and decided to push myself beyond the boundaries that I had created. I’ve looked within, and listened to the voice that calls me to a deeper part of myself, and found the beginning of a new journey in prayer. Rather than praying the offices, I’ve found myself reading through the Gospel stories and meditating on them. I read them, and watch them in my imagination; I observe what I see and the perspective I have in the meditation; I observe how I relate to Jesus and the disciples, and try to imagine what they must be feeling in those moments. This practice has proven to be much more meaningful to me, and has shed light on things I never thought about–such as why I always see myself at a distance from Jesus.
I’ve also learned a lot about myself. I’m not really a morning person. While I’m generally lively and positive in the morning, I’m not in a mood that is conducive to prayer and meditation. Over the years, I’ve almost forced myself to have a morning prayer service–early mornings even, to be more monastic–and that really wasn’t fair to my spirit. I’ve come to learn that having a late afternoon or evening time set apart for prayer is much more meaningful to who I am as an individual. Being aware of how my body naturally functions in this way has brought myself to a deeper awareness of who I am as a creation of God, and has brought me closer to my creator.
While I don’t think there is anything wrong with the offices or traditional methods of praying, I think it’s wrong to force or limit ourselves to them based solely on tradition. God is so much bigger, and he created us to be the unique expression of his love that we are. We should listen to that, and seek to use it to connect back with God. It is God whom we should learn from, not the pushy “voice of perfection” in our heads. That voice only leads to being self-critical and unloving. Prayer is meant to be a relationship–a connection–to God, and we should take the time, to open the hearts God has given us, to that relationship.