Beginning to Pray

 I remember the first time someone really took the time to teach me prayer.  I  can’t tell you how old I was, or what room I was in; I can’t remember the names of those who were with me, or even who it was that was giving us this instruction; I do remember the acronym we were taught: ACTS.  When you pray, Adore God, Confess to God, Thank God, and then make Supplication to God.  That’s how I remember it being taught, anyway.  I’ve come across the same acronym on multiple occasions since, but I’m pretty sure that this was the gist of that first encounter with it.  It’s not a bad model for prayer, and certainly reminds us of elements of prayer that we might otherwise forget – for that alone it is worth committing to memory, even when not being followed (in a strict sense) it can remind us of different facets of prayer.  Otherwise it can be all-too-easy to fall into our “pet” prayer-style.

It wasn’t that I hadn’t prayed before.  I had!  I knew the every-week prayers of the liturgy (the ordinary) down pat, and I wasn’t afraid to pray out loud in groups, or even to pray for people when the opportunity arose.  I was no stranger to extemporaneous or liturgical prayer.  But there was something in this that was so simple and yet so illuminating.  As I considered the form prayers that I knew by rote, I was able to see the different elements of ACTS at work in the prayers of the Church.  One need only consider the Pater Noster (Our Father, or The Lord’s Prayer) to see how this little acronym can work out practically.  But then, there is one little element that it leaves out and which I have come to consider invaluable when it comes to prayer – and I cannot remember anymore if it was taught to me at some later date, or if I just started teaching it because I had found it so worthwhile.

PACTS.  Before you begin your prayer of Adoration, Pause.  Focus yourself on what it is you are going to do.  Eliminate the distractions that are vying for your attention.  If you were about to address the Queen, you would take a moment to compose yourself and to divorce your mind from those various things that run around in it.  You would want to be fully present to that moment of addressing the Queen.  How much more, then, when you are going to address the King of the universe!  It seems like such a simple thing – pausing – and for that very reason it is often overlooked.  There are times when the need and inspiration to pray strike us so suddenly that there is no time to pause, we must pray as the Holy Spirit gives utterance.  But there are times when we’ve set aside time for prayer, and we should enter these times intentionally – we should pause, and dissociate ourselves from the many things that would otherwise distract and mislead us during prayer; pause, and call to mind the privilege extended to us by our heavenly Father that we may undertake what we are about to, our own unworthiness to that task (except as He has made us worthy), and invite God’s Holy Spirit to embody and empower our prayers in that time and place – to guide and to govern us.

If you have managed to get your hands on a copy of The Witness Cloud Daily Prayers, you’ll find a selection of eight prayers that may be used before beginning the prayer office itself.  These are prayers that have to do with pausing.  The pause is not wasted time, and it is not a time of void.  Instead, it is a time of activity – of receiving God’s grace, transformation, and the determination that only He can give to seek Him with all of one’s heart.  These prayers are about cutting ties with the mundane and reconnecting with the Holy:

1 Bless, O Lord, us Thy servants who minister in Thy temple.  Grant, O Lord, that what we say and sing with our lips, we may believe in our hearts, and practise in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

2 Open, Lord, my mouth to bless Thy holy Name, cleanse my heart from all vain, foolish, wandering thoughts, enlighten my understanding, enkindle my affections, that I may say this Office with attention and devotion, and may so be meet to be heard before the Presence of Thy Divine Majesty; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

3 Grant, I beseech Thee, Lord God, that by the melody of this holy Office my soul may be refreshed; cause me always to apply myself to Thy praises, and joyfully to come to Thy unveiled Presence; Who livest and reignest God, world without end.  Amen.

4 O Lord, open Thou our lips and purify our hearts; that we may worthily magnify Thy Holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

5 O Lord, our God and Father, dispose our hearts and guide us by Thy Holy Spirit; that our prayers and praises may be acceptable in Thy sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

6 O Lord our God, Who knowest all hearts, be merciful to us sinners and graciously assist us in our ministry before Thee; that so we may offer a Service and Sacrifice well-pleasing in Thy sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

7 Cleanse our hearts, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord, from all vain and wandering thoughts; that we may joyfully praise Thee in Thy Holy House; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

8 Grant, I entreat Thee, Almighty God, that speaking with understanding and good will, and in plainness, I may deserve to be heard by Thee: for I need Thy help in all things; so that by the gift of Thy grace, I may be enabled not unworthily to sing the words of Thy Majesty; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Sometimes we call it centring prayer.  Its purpose, in this situation, is to be used of God to make transition in the believer’s heart: transition from darkness to light; from the cares and concerns of the world to the things of God; from brokenness to wholeness; from a life disposed to sin and corruption, to a life of holiness before God.  When we pause we do not collect ourselves for prayer, but we are collected by God for prayer.  When we pause we do not reorient our hearts to God’s, but we are reoriented by God.  I invite you, then, to take an intentional pause before you engage with any of the daily Offices, and to make a centring prayer, such as one of these, a part of your pause.

May God bless you abundantly as you seek Him according to His grace to you.

Fr. Jonathan Hoskin+

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