Pray40Days is a 40-day prayer experience led by Fr. Michael J. Denk. If you are visiting for the first time, scroll down to the first post and read the introduction.
Now that you have your “prayer room” or “sacred space” set up, it is important to get comfortable in it. You are going to be spending some great quality time there, and you should feel comfort and a sense of warmth whenever you enter. Consider some kind of ritual to make it sacred, some transition from the ordinary to the extraordinary.
Mother Teresa insisted that all of her nuns remove their shoes or sandals before entering the chapel to pray. I’ve prayed in a number of their chapels throughout the world, and I have to say this is a very profound experience and “sets you up” to pray. God said: “Do not come near! Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5).
Another great sacramental is a Holy Water font. Consider placing this right by the entryway to your “sacred space” so that whenever you enter it you can make the Sign of the Cross. This is a very powerful sacramental that not only draws you close to God but also protects you from the devil.
Now that you are in your room try different prayer postures. Traditionally the Church has four postures of praying: standing, sitting, kneeling, and prostrating. You experience most of these at Sunday Mass. Think about how many times you change posture during Mass. Each posture is intentional and has some meaning with a desired effect.
Standing: When we stand at Church, we are “at attention.” We stand during the Processional, the Gospel, the Recessional, the Petitions, and all of the prayers of the Mass (when we are not kneeling). At that time the Lord set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of the Lord, to stand before the Lord to minister to him, and to bless in his name, as they have done to this day (Deuteronomy 10:8). “Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36).
Kneeling: The man then knelt and bowed down to the Lord (Genesis 24:26). St. Paul writes “that at Jesus’ name every knee must bend in the heavens, on the earth, and under the earth. . .” (Phil. 2:10).
Sitting: Moving on from there Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, went up on the mountain, and sat down there (Matthew 15:29). The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oak of Mamre, as he sat in the entrance of his tent, while the day was growing hot (Genesis 18:1).
Prostrating: But Moses and Aaron went away from the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting, where they fell prostrate… Then the glory of the Lord appeared to them” (Numbers 20:6). Then he brought me by way of the north gate to the facade of the temple. I looked—and the glory of the Lord filled the Lord’s house! I fell on my face. The Lord said to me: Son of man, pay close attention, look carefully, and listen intently to everything I tell you (Ezekiel 44:4-5). And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him (Luke 17:15-16).
Practice these different prayer postures and see how they affect you. You may experiment all you want before prayer, but try to remain in one prayer posture for your entire prayer period unless God moves you otherwise. Spend three minutes (as best you can without hurting yourself) today in each of the postures for a total of 12 minutes. During that time meditate on any one Scripture passage that you choose.
Journal your experience now. What was it like? Which posture felt most comfortable? Did you feel closer to God with any of the postures? Which posture helped you to “feel” prayerful? Did you sense that you were in God’s presence? Did God speak to you?
THE DAILY HABIT OF PRAYER:
If we want to be “good” at doing something, we must spend time doing it. If we want to “fall in love with someone” (and in this case God Himself), we must spend time with that person. Like anything else this takes time. Time is the greatest gift God has given to us, and so often we waste it. Ahh, but there is nothing better than “wasting time” with God. If we want to get in shape, we have to get into some kind of routine, and it has to be consistent. We must also be dedicated, because if we aren’t dedicated, like anything else it will fall to the wayside.
The same is true for prayer. “The choice of the time and duration of the prayer arises from a determined will, revealing the secrets of the heart. One does not undertake contemplative prayer only when one has the time. One makes time for the Lord, with the firm determination not to give up, no matter what trials and dryness one may encounter” (CCC, 2710).
The reality is, that just like you need a place to pray, you also need a time to pray. Our Jewish ancestors and Jesus himself prayed traditionally three times every day. But I will call upon God, and the Lord will save me. At dusk, dawn, and noon, I will grieve and complain, and my prayer will be heard (Psalm 55:17- 18). [Daniel] “continued his custom of going home to kneel in prayer and give thanks to his God in the upper chamber three times a day” (Daniel 6:10-11).
Jesus gives us a perfect prayer and teaches us to pray every day: The Lord’s Prayer. “This is how you are to pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread” (Matthew 6:9-11).
The hope and desire is that every moment of every day we are in union with Jesus and God the Father. Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:16-19).
If we want to pray all the time, we, at least, have to start by praying at some particular time. It must be every day. It must be made out of a determined act of will. And we must not miss it for anything “come hell or high water.” The Church in her great wisdom gives us this time of 40 days and 40 nights every year to form a new habit or break an old one. Pray40Days will help you form the new habit of a daily, deep, and profound prayer life.
It is important that every time you pray you are always praying through, with, and in Christ. He is the way to the Father. It’s a good practice to keep your Bible with you so that during times of silent meditation you can go back to the actual Scripture if you get distracted or need to refresh yourself and remember what it is that you were meditating on if you get distracted.
And He said to them: “Suppose one of you has a friend to whom he goes at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, for a friend of mine has arrived at my house from a journey and I have nothing to offer him, and he says in reply from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked and my children and I are already in bed. I cannot get up to give you anything. I tell you, if he does not get up to give him the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence (Luke 11:5-8).
The Answer to Prayer: “And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the holy Spirit to those who ask him?” (Luke 11:9-13).
SOME HELPFUL TIPS:
These are merely suggestions (this entire program is actually just a suggested way to learn to pray meditatively and contemplatively.) The Holy Spirit will be your ultimate Spiritual Director. If there is anything in this text or in these meditations that is not helpful for you, don’t feel that you have to use it. The most important maxim is “Do no harm.” I encourage you to try to do it for the entire program of Pray40Days. If at any point you don’t want to continue or find yourself confused, please seek a wise spiritual person to guide you. At the end of Pray40Days keep what is helpful and dismiss what is not helpful to you.
- Communicate to others that you will be praying. I have a huge Italian family and every Sunday the family gets together for dinner. Thankfully my parents have kept my room there for me, so I still have a “prayer room” in my family home. I’ve communicated to my whole family that when I go up there and close the door, I am praying and do not want to be disturbed for any reason. They all know that when the door is closed, I am praying. Even my nieces and nephews know that “when Uncle Mike is upstairs, and his door is closed, he is praying.” Believe it or not, they understand, and I have NEVER been disturbed by them! One of my nieces, the youngest, said: “We can’t go up there Uncle Mike is praying now, but sometimes I think he’s really sleeping.” Sometimes I am!
- Begin with the 5 P’s of Prayer.
- Take some time to transition into this sacred space.
- Set a goal for yourself of how long you feel God is calling you to pray. It should be something that you are going to be able to do every day. With every goal, it has not only to be doable but also challenge you to really grow. I suggest 10-15 minutes for beginners who have never experienced this. Half an hour for those who have some experience. And a “Holy Hour” for those who have had many years of praying. When you decide what you would like to commit to, make a resolution with God and share it with a spiritual director or another wise spiritual person.
- Have someone you can be accountable to. Consider forming a prayer group that will meet once a week to pray together, to review and share your experiences of prayer, and to be accountable to.
- NO matter what, DO NOT leave even a moment early. The enemy will try to get you out of that room. He will offer you a thousand and one different excuses to leave prayer early. Remain steadfast and committed to whatever your resolution was.
- Always have your Bible and your journal with you.
- Follow along with the meditations in the text or listen online at: TheProdigalFather.org/Pray40Days
- If you find yourself distracted at any time by a noise outside, an interior disturbance, or thought; that is normal. Be kind and gentle to yourself every time and calmly return to the passage of Scripture that you are praying with.
- What if I fall asleep? It is ok; maybe God just wanted you to rest with him. I say, “I’d rather be asleep in God’s presence than awake anywhere else!” But if it does become a habit you may want to consider praying at a different time when you are more awake, changing your posture, or even taking a nap before you pray.
- At the end of the meditation or contemplation take your time transitioning out of prayer and just enjoy the experience.
- Journaling is a wonderful experience of prayer. Be sure to keep your journal safe and private so that you can freely and honestly express yourself to God. You will find yourself writing things that he is speaking to you without even realizing it. It is one way that you can really dialogue with God and “hear his voice.”
- Consider ending with an Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be. This could be a vocal prayer, meditative prayer, or a reflection with journaling.
© 2016, Fr. Michael J. Denk. All rights reserved. No portion of this content shall be reproduced without written consent. Contact: FrMichael@TheProdigalFather.org