Mechanics of Prayer

THE MECHANICS OF PRAYER: When The Prayers You Make Make You

October 30, 2018

My mother, not a kind or generous mother, told me that my first words were the Lord’s Prayer. I have always treasured that knowledge, holding it close as an affirmation of who I am. My badge of identity, as it were. But after the past year or so I have come to a new appreciation of that choice of mine. To reach out into the air and decide which words I was hearing around me were the ones I wanted to speak aloud. I have experienced something strong and heart-changing in the past few months. It has to do with my prayers. Of course I have prayed all my life. In church. At the dinner table. Before meetings. For other people. From time-to-time, even for myself. Prayer is a part of my life.  In the doing.  In the studying under God.  In [...]


October 7, 2018

This edited reposting was first published on July 10, 2012. For the most part, intuitively, we understand how prayer works.  When I tell you that a prayer must be a telling of a truth, you nod because that makes perfect sense.  When I write that you must be aligned in your prayer, that is, you must want the result of your prayer in your thoughts, in your feelings, and in your actions (after all, praying for a job without going out and actually looking for one proves you to be disinterested, at best), you will respond, “Of course!” The concept of being committed to your prayer, really committed, committed to your knees, is obvious also. But there are aspects of prayer that are not so obvious.  I haven’t written yet on [...]

THE MECHANICS OF PRAYER: Praying For Someone With No Knees

July 22, 2017

Lately, there is something that I have been forced to sit quietly and consider: the act of praying for someone who doesn’t pray for themselves. On the surface it’s a no-brainer.  Someone is in need of God’s grace and mercy, and so we pray for him.  No matter what the need. No matter the person’s relationship with God. We pray. Right? Right.  That’s what we do. But what exactly are we doing when we do that?  Get down on our knees.  Find the words we are looking for.  Make our petition. Again and again and again. For a person who has no knees of their own. No faith. No belief in any power other than themselves. That shouldn’t matter to us, should it? Perhaps it’s not a matter of matter. Perhaps [...]


April 28, 2017

She sat there at the table.  One hand covering a part of the other. Her sweetness so profound it creates its own kind of beauty. I want you to pray for a member of my family. I scrabble for my pen and the piece of paper I use in that setting to list those who will go on my general intercessory prayer list. I write the name down. Then, while she is still talking about this prayer of ours, just assigned, she straightens her spine.  And becomes The Brave Girl. Now we know that nothing can be done for him. I stand and watch her until she is finished, then go on with my day. Later, when I get home, I get out my intercessory prayer “notebook.” It’s this large, hard notebook that has massive rings.  When my daughter went to [...]

THE MECHANICS OF PRAYER: In Returning And Rest Shall Ye Be Saved

October 27, 2015

I have always had the impression that people basically understand prayer. People know that prayers can be answered just the way we imagined.  We know that prayers can be answered in a way we didn’t imagine.  We also know that sometimes prayers aren’t answered. And that confuses us. There are a lot of possibilities for the silence from God as a response to a prayer. One is that “no” is the response.  That we can’t pray our way out of a certain situation, or pray for someone else in the way we want to.  That whatever is real in this case is the way it is going to stay real. Understanding some of the reasons for “no” takes a lifetime of quiet listening to God.  And, yes, sometimes not-so-quiet [...]

THE MECHANICS OF PRAYER: The Elements Of An Answered Prayer

July 17, 2014

Perhaps I haven’t covered this before.  I can’t remember.  And while having the intention to thumb through past writings, I tend to get distracted by other concerns. (This is known in the English major circle as foreshadowing.) But even if I’ve covered it, I’m fairly sure I haven’t written this. (If I have, then here you have it again.) One of the most incomprehensible things about God, I have found, is his simplicity.  We imagine that the “rules” of God are so complex and vast that just witnessing one would overwhelm us.  Perhaps even to death. We equate God with infinity.  And with all those “omni’s.” But the more I have studied God, the more I have come to understand that [...]

MECHANICS OF PRAYER: The Prayer That Is Never Answered (includes the Realm of Acceptance)

July 18, 2013

In almost every way, in our relationship with God there is a continuum: an endless road that allows for progress, for improvement.  For almost everything, in our relationship with God, there is no such thing as a closed door. There is, however, one exception. When my daughter was little, during that wondrous time that is understatedly described as the “terrible” twos (if this is terrible, what, then, is horrific?), she would work herself up into near volcanic eruptions over, essentially, nothing.  And, no matter what was happening in her life, no matter what was troubling her, I was always to blame. Ah, the joys of being a mother. And, oddly enough, now that she’s an adult, it’s still pretty much the same. Anyway. [...]

MECHANICS OF PRAYER: Letting God Know You Are Serious

June 18, 2013

I realized that I was at THAT point in a prayer the other day: the point where I have to step out and get bold. In prayer, there are a couple of elements that are significant, both to the one praying and to God.  The Act, if we should call it something that might as well be it, comes at a time in prayer when you are (1) telling the truth about what you are praying for, (2) committed absolutely to the prayer, and (3) willing to accept what God gives you in response to your prayer. What happens now?  The Act. It comes at that time when you have to put your money where your mouth is, or, in this case, when you have to put your action where your words are. It’s the time when you ask the world, itself, for what you want – and the [...]

THE MECHANICS OF PRAYER: A Matter Of Time, and other elements

May 27, 2013

I don’t know if it’s my age.  Or whether over time, having been exposed (as it were) to God for so many decades that the knowing that I’ve gained has formed grooves of its own in my brain and in my consciousness, so that I’ve somehow, over the years, physically and mentally merged with this knowledge, so that it has become, literally, a part of me. But it has definitely formed the way that I look at things. It used to be that I looked at life through the eyes of an editor.  I edited everything I looked at.  Until it felt more like an obsession than a way-of-life.  And so I stopped editing.  And eventually I stopped editing the life around me. But I’ve never stopped shaping, perhaps even reshaping, that [...]


January 8, 2013

It takes a true commitment of time and application to even begin to feel the inner workings of prayer.  One has to take a goal, something one truly wants to bring into reality, and swear to do whatever it takes to see that goal through to reality. And while it is a relief, in some ways, to give God the credit for deciding to not fulfill our request, the truth is, the two most probable causes for ineffectiveness in a prayer are (1) our own hidden reluctance to receiving what it is we are asking for; and (2) evil: those forces in the universe, both in the seen and unseen realms, that just don’t want the fulfillment of our prayers to happen. Just because. Trying to understand the whys and wherefores of evil is akin to setting out to [...]

MECHANICS OF PRAYER: Writing Our Own Prayers

September 18, 2012

This could be subtitled, or, what’s wrong with a lot of prayers out there, but I’ll be nice and just leave the title as it is. I’ve come up with about six(ish) things that I believe are essential for writing prayers.  Knowing me, I could come up with a lot more if given more time and attention to the matter, but I think it’s good to start somewhere. So let’s start here. First, and foremost, determine who it is you are praying to. If talking directly to God, the Father, feels intimidating to you, then go for an intermediary.  Roman Catholics do it all the time.  The range of lifestyles of those considered saints is vast.  They go from tender flowers of sweetness, like Bernadette Soubirous, to warrior [...]


June 8, 2012

It came to me suddenly the other that one very big key to successful praying is that we need to believe in prayer. It sounds obvious.  It sounds simple. But it’s neither. We come to prayer in what seems like a simple way: grace before meals, the Lord’s Prayer, perhaps, before bed.  These prayers, like those during mass on Sunday, become a part of our lives from a very early age. But having prayer taught to us like this makes it just a part of our lives, like brushing our teeth or paying the electric bill.  It has meaning — but if we had to describe what that meaning is, could we do it?  What meaning does the Lord’s Prayer have to us?  Has it become just a comfort to us, something we would miss if we didn’t [...]

MECHANICS OF PRAYER: The Bucket Phenomenon

March 20, 2012

In something that I was reading the other day, I happened upon the author suggesting ways that God works with us in prayer.  Not unusually, I had a number of reactions.  The first is that we should never assume to understand much about how God works, with or without us. That’s always my first reaction to someone asserting ideas about How God Works.  My continuing experience is that it’s way beyond our understanding, and our assertions probably make as much sense as when my daughter explained to me that the way streetlights work is that a very, very small man sits inside the streetlight and has a go at making things orderly around him. On a nearly daily basis, in fact, I even question why I try to write things down on this [...]


February 21, 2012

I have noticed that quite often when a person or an organization writes a prayer for others to support, the language of the prayer becomes somewhat overly ideal.  What I mean is that, rather than the ideal in life, prayer is for real. It is for real people who have real problems in this very, very pointedly real world. Not that long ago I read a collection of prayers written by a very modern woman, and it felt like I was taking a walk through Disney World.  The intentions of the prayers sounded real enough, but the prayers themselves could be read on stage and keep an audience rapt for quite a long time.  God was always soaring around, not the behind-the-scenes, quiet intervener (yes, I know that’s not a real word) one might want [...]

THE MECHANICS OF PRAYER: Commitment — Holding fast to the hand of God

February 6, 2012

Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving. (Colossians 4:2) There are two ways to approach the subject of commitment to prayer.  The first is the general admonition to pray always, to keep an active prayer going in your mind and heart for as long as you can during your waking hours. But within the topic of the mechanics of prayer, I treat commitment differently.  What I mean by commitment to prayer is the guidance that if you want your prayer to work, you have to be committed to praying that prayer for as long as it takes to receive an answer.  Hour after hour, day after day, month after month. To recap, briefly, what I’ve written on the mechanics so far: my definition of prayer is the act of bringing an [...]

THE MECHANICS OF PRAYER: Silence — Bearing The Fruit Of Reverence, with quotes of Thomas Merton

January 3, 2012

I love Thomas Merton.  He is a writer that I can never read too much of.  So, when I decided to write on the importance of silence in prayer, I looked up some writing by Thomas on silence, or stillness, to see how much our assertions conformed with one another. We don’t proclaim the same things about silence, but I still found myself soothed and moved by his words.  For instance, here is something he wrote: Words stand between silence and silence: between the silence of things and the silence of our own being, between the silence of the world and the silence of God.  When we have really met and known the world in silence, words do not separate us from the world nor from other men, nor from God, nor from ourselves because we no [...]

THE MECHANICS OF PRAYER: Intention And Alignment

December 28, 2011

All right, she says, as she rubs her hands together, let’s get started.  Most people intuitively understand the mechanics of prayer — not all of it, to be sure, but people seem to “get” what prayer is about. However, unlike the sort of general way people approach prayer, prayer is, surprisingly, a very exact activity. So let us begin at the beginning, with the intention of a prayer.  It’s amazing how many prayers that I read, which are written by the average man-off-the-street trying to be impressive, that are, in the end, absolutely meaningless.  These prayers may sound good, all the words heading off toward some fanciful ideal, but the prayers seems to forget completely that our prayers are petitions for [...]


December 13, 2011

As I rummaged around the fundamentals of prayer looking for ways to talk about it I happened upon a concept that would have flown right past me as I grew up and studied the miracle and joy that is prayer. Unquestioningly I would have included God in the effort. But, I realized, not everyone would be so accepting about the fundamentals of prayer, and take them on without thinking them over first. So the question is, why God? Why pray to God? Why include God in our petitions to the universe? There is, after all, a system of writing out affirmations for our perceived wants and needs. If I want a new job then all I have to do is write out, for a specified number of times, I, Julia, will find a new job this week. Or some such formula. Why not [...]


December 7, 2011

To begin any and every writing about God, it is necessary to acknowledge the three fundamental laws of God: respect, courtesy, and gratitude.  No matter if you are dealing with having visions, praying for a friend, or grocery shopping, these three laws always apply.  If it’s not respectful, courteous, or grateful, it’s not God. I have found over the years that God can be understood to some infinitesimal degree.  And in that understanding one can find simplicity.  The above laws about God are simple.  If you want to follow God, even in a small way, and find yourself yelling at your neighbor about raking their leaves into your yard, find a way to back out of the argument and look for something respectful to say.  Or [...]


November 30, 2011

There are many definitions of prayer.  Evelyn Underhill calls it a loving intercourse with God.  Myriad descriptions refer to it as being a quenching of a thirst.  We, people, somehow and for some reason yearn to connect with God and prayer is one way that satisfies this yearning. All this is well and good.  And very poetic.  But I take a much more practical and concrete approach to prayer.  Here is my definition: Prayer is the act of taking of an idea and bringing it into reality through God. All of us who pray have a general, if fuzzy, understanding of how  prayer works.  We may even have strong feelings about the form it should take — it should involve knees and/or a bowed head.  We should stand.  A cross should be [...]