How Do We Do This Prayer Thing? – A Spiritual Reflection
In continuing our examination on prayer, I wanted to refer to two resources that I have recommended to people who have asked about what type of prayer form they should engage. Two books that I have found useful are Sacred Pathways by Gary Thomas (© 2000, by Zondervan Publishing), as well as Prayer and Temperament, Different Prayer Forms for Different Personality Types by Chester Michael and Marie Norrisey (© 1991, The Open Door Publications).
Some words of caution – First, I tend to be a process type of person and both of these books use a kind of process (a type of questionnaire) in order to elicit data from the reader. From this data, the authors then point the reader to a particular type of prayer style from which the reader can begin to discern what type of prayer pathway or style might be fruitful and helpful. For some, the process might seem somewhat mechanized and off-putting. However, for others wondering how they might plow through 2000 years of Catholic prayer tradition to find what works for them, it’s a method by which a person can begin to sort through the various traditions to arrive at a particular place where they can begin to experiment.
Second, Prayer and Temperament is a bit dated (published in 1991) and recommends a “Myers – Briggs” or “Keirsey Temperament” scale to ascertain the basic personality type of the reader. Some might find this “psycho-babble” and totally inappropriate as a spiritual foundation. In spite of this (valid) concern, experienced spiritual directors recognize that all of us pray differently. An earlier study, specifically on prayer and personality, found 98% testified to the value of choosing a method of prayer which was compatible to their temperament.” (Prayer and Temperament, from the “Introduction.”).With that said, onto the books themselves:
you find prayer difficult or if your prayer life has become dry, perhaps it is
because you’re trying to follow someone else’s path instead of your own. Sacred
Pathways unfolds nine distinct spiritual temperaments—their traits, strengths,
and pitfalls. Each one suggests an approach to loving God through a distinctive
journey of adoration. In one or more you will see yourself and the ways you
most naturally express your relationship with Jesus Christ.
What I found enlightening, and challenging, about Sacred Pathways, was its encouragement to follow Luke 5:4 to “go out into the deep” and drop your prayer nets at some point into different, unfamiliar spiritual waters. Sacred Pathways also recommends spiritual prayer pathways that do not match your personality. Most of us would find trying out such prayer traditions difficult and challenging at minimum, or scary, arduous and painful in the worst case. Nevertheless, Sacred Pathways encourages readers to “explore the way they can stretch and invigorate their spiritual life. “
In addition, for each “pathway,” Sacred Pathways provides an excellent “prayer program” including questions and suggested exercises to engage, deepen and apply your prayer life in practical ways.
When reading Prayer and Temperament, there were two items that struck me: (1) The description and prayer style suited to my personality was spot on! (2) Much like Sacred Pathways, Prayer and Temperament also mentions that, at some point, the reader might be “led into the desert” (See Mathew 4:1) to engage the Lord in a different prayer tradition. I cringed on the accuracy of the book’s assessment when examining my polar opposite prayer personality. (Sorry, just not quite ready to try that just yet). In addition, Prayer and Temperament is tied more into the “Roman Catholic” prayer traditions than Sacred Pathways by looking at such prayer traditions as Benedictine, Ignatian, Augustinian, Franciscan and Thomistic. Just like Sacred Pathways, the approach that Prayer and Temperament uses might strike some as somewhat mechanistic. I don’t recommend it as the be-all-and-end-all of prayer and spiritual guidance, but it might provide a good point of departure for people looking for a place to start.
At the recent St. Monica Adult Faith Formation sponsored, “Prayer Panel,” the very practical question of “How do we do this prayer thing” arose in several forms. Perhaps these two resources will help.