Learning to Pray

Learning to Pray (Fran Hezel, SJ)

People sometimes think that religious things come easy to those of us who are priests and sisters. But the truth is that we have to learn how to pray. People may think that prayer, which can be so boring and dry for them, is a garden of delights for the ?pros??those whose name is prefixed by the title Father or Sister. But even those of us who have been trying to pray for many years would never claim this.

Learning to pray is messy business. There are no clear upward curves on our progress sheet. Even after many years of experience, we find that we still get lost in distractions when we?re supposed to be praying. If this is supposed to be a conversation, why don?t I ever seem to get a reply? Many people simply get tired of talking to themselves, as they might put it, or shouting into an empty room. After all, what do we have to show in the end for all our efforts? It?s not surprising that so many people who learned their prayers faithfully as kids simply quit when they get older.

But what if a person somehow continues to struggle with prayer over the course of years? What can he expect?

?Learning to Pray? is the story of one person?s (my own) struggle with prayer over the years. The shift from written prayers to silent prayer from our heart. The battle against discouragement when there seem to be no real results. The shift to different kinds of prayer?from the mind to the imagination to the depths of our inner being. The spillover of what seems to be just a rote practice into other areas of our life. And the judgement of an old and not too skillful practitioner on the real payoff of prayer over the years.

Too otherworldly for you? Well, let it pass if you must, but you should know by now that I have little patience for empty abstractions. If you want to read on about one person?s attempts to make sense of all this, and perhaps compare this with your own experience, you can find the article here.

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About the author

Francis X. Hezel, SJ
Francis X. Hezel, SJ

Francis X. Hezel, SJ, is a Jesuit priest who has lived and worked in Micronesia since 1963. At different times he has served as high school teacher, school administrator, pastor, and regional superior to the Jesuits of Micronesia. He spent thirty years directing the Micronesian Seminar, a non-profit, non-governmental organization based in Pohnpei, Micronesia. He has written and spoken widely about social change and its impact on island societies. He has also written several books on Micronesian history, including The First Taint of Civilization, Strangers in Their Own Land, and The New Shape of Old Island Cultures. His most recent book, Making Sense of Micronesia: The Logic of Pacific Island Culture, is available through University of Hawaii Press.