Thursday, December 8, 2011

Tools for Prayer

Being the liturgy geek that I am, I love to use various tools for my prayer times. These serve to help me focus, to give structure and guidance, and to connect me with the greater Church.

My favorite and most-used tool is the Book of Common Prayer (BCP). It provides guidelines for many types of services, but most often I use Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer parts of the daily office. There are some truly beautiful prayers contained in this book, and the structure helps me stay focused on prayer instead of allowing my mind to wander a million miles away. I have used other books in the past, and still do on occasion. I recently acquired a copy of the Benedictine prayer book, which I may use at some point or another. Also, the Order of St. Luke, of which I am a member, has a book with suggested prayer offices, which are fairly similar to the Anglican ones in the BCP and the United Methodist ones printed in the United Methodist Hymnal.

Another tool which I occasionally use is a rosary. I love it's tactile nature, the counting of beads as I pray, and the visual of the crucifix at the beginning and end. I do pray the Roman Catholic prayers, although I don't necessarily know that praying to the Blessed Virgin actually accomplishes anything. Still, there are some good points and some deep things to meditate upon.

I also occasionally use incense. I generally go for the frankincense and myrrh that churches use, since it reminds me of, well, church. The Bible says that our prayers are like a sweet aroma or incense going to the nostrils of God. Smell and memory are closely tied, so when I smell the incense, I immediately call to mind the services where it was used and the feeling of God's presence at those times.

I think many people agree that using music can be a very powerful tool. I do think it should be used sparingly, however, because I think that, in our society, we're too quick to drown out our own thoughts with music. But it does provide a great atmosphere for contemplation and prayer. I like several different things for this. Sometimes I listen to David Crowder. He's my favorite contemporary artist. Sometimes I listen to old hymns played on a huge organ with a beautiful choir. Sometimes I listen to instrumental music. And many times I will listen to a Psalm or canticle being chanted in the Anglican or Gregorian style. A very ancient type of music indeed. My favorite site for learning to do this is Chantblog. Incidentally, Emily and I are probably chanting a Psalm at church on Christmas Eve.

One more tool I use is imagery and color. I have an icon of Jesus hanging over my computer screen in my bedroom. I have another in my "prayer corner", the little area of my home where I do my morning and evening prayers. In that corner, I also have a Celtic cross (which may vary, depending on my whim) and some cloth of some sort in the color of the season. In Lent I add some railroad spikes which my brother found for me (I know they're not terribly accurate, but the imagery is powerful nonetheless) and rough-textured burlap veils the cross. At Easter colors change to white and a framed "Alleluia" is put up. I am going to get a crucifix to hang, too. All these visuals (plus a few more) help me to focus on Christ as I'm praying.

Now, I can and do pray without my tools. I need to point that out so that you don't think that I'm helpless without them. I also don't think they have any power in themselves. Christ can and does use symbols. Even language is symbols.

And of course the Bible is prominently used. But that goes without saying, so I went without saying it.

So then, what tools do you use, and why?

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