By Vinita, based on Praying the Way Jesus Prayed
In chapter 2 of Praying the Way Jesus Prayed, Fr. Mark Link discusses traditional prayers and spontaneous prayers. It’s good to become comfortable with both types, because they fit life in various times and situations.
When is a good time to pray the traditional, memorized prayers? For me, traditional prayers help when my mind is scattered and it’s hard for me to pray. Sometimes when I’m stressed, it’s too difficult to gather my thoughts into prayer mode. So an Our Father will bring me back to more calm and centeredness.
Some people pray the memorized prayers when in emotional turmoil, because it’s easier to let memory kick in than to form thoughts. Recently I watched a movie that re-enacted a true story about two police officers who were trapped in the wreckage of the World Trade Center. Occasionally the debris would shift, showering stone, steel, and dirt on top of them; at one such moment, thinking that this was the end, one of the men cried out the Our Father.
Jesus turned to traditional prayer when he was dying on the cross. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” is the beginning of Psalm 22. Undoubtedly, Jesus had memorized this and many other psalms since he was a boy being taught the Jewish prayers at synagogue.
But Jesus also prayed on-the-spot. Before he raised Lazarus from the dead, he prayed, “Father, I thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me, but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that you have sent me” (John 11:41–42). All of John 17 is a prayer Jesus composed while with his disciples, a prayer helping them understand the kingdom of God and his interaction with them. It was also a prayer that expressed his love for them and the vision he had for their lives ahead.
Whether we are praying a few lines we memorized as children, or we are pouring out our hearts in a flood of words we barely understand ourselves, those words are prayer because they represent hearts open before God.
I encourage you to practice both traditional and spontaneous forms of prayer this week. Especially practice whichever type you are least comfortable with.