About 16 years ago, in a time of great spiritual need, I journeyed to the Abbey of Gethsemani, near Louisville, Kentucky, and spent four days and three nights at that famous monastery. It changed my life.
I learned things from the Trappist monks there that I had not learned in my own tradition, things about prayer, and much more. Here are just four ways I learned to pray like a monk:
I talk too much. Not just in meetings, but in my conversations with God. And for decades, I didn't quite grasp what other people meant when they talked about "listening to God." But the monks helped me with that.
I have learned in more than a dozen visits to Gethsemani that silence really does foster an internal, two-way conversation with God. I have learned what it means to hear from God.
I have learned that God, always a gentleman, seldom interrupts me. He will wait for me to stop talking and listen. So I have to shut up. For a while. And then he speaks. Not audibly (not yet, anyway). But unmistakeably.
2. Read Slowly
I've read my Bible my whole life. I've read through it many times. But the practice of prayerfully chanting psalms taught me to slow down and let the Word seep into my heart and mind and life.
That opened up to me a whole new world of prayer and intimacy with God. It turned my “Bible reading time” into “waiting and listening and praying time.”
The psalmist sang, “Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you” (Psalm 116:7, ESV). Sometimes rest is a form of prayer. It can be a tremendous blessing to close your eyes or lay down your head as if reposing in the arms of God.
Though I've always had trouble sleeping, even at night, I learned from my sojourns at the monastery to pursue moments of repose as a form of prayer.
Perhaps most of all, I learned to “be” from the monks. I have always been a "doer." Even, at times, a workaholic.
My temperament and my upbringing combined to make me a hard worker…and long laborer. And day after day, month after month, year after year, that had become my life: doing, not being.
But on one of my early retreats at Gethsemani, I was intrigued to see the lives of several dozen monks ordered, not by frantic efforts to “do” and to “accomplish” things–though they do accomplish much–but by the priority of “being,” putting themselves in God’s path, so to speak, and waiting on him, in patient prayer, devotion, silence and solitude.
Being, not doing. It wasn't an easy discipline to learn. The first time or two, I arrived at the monastery with a stack of books to read, an agenda of items to pray through, and more.
But little by little, I learned to be still. To stop my incessant "doing." To surrender my need to accomplish things. To spend time in God’s presence, not “accomplishing” stuff, not chattering or checking off items on a list, but being with him. Being still. Being present. Being.
I still can’t say I’m good at any of these ways of praying, but I’ve enjoyed–and benefited immensely from–getting better, little by little.
How about you? Do you practice any of these “ways to pray?”