Friday, May 9, 2014

Why Should Prayer be Structured?

Replaying a popular post from last year. It's on that perennial question of formal vs. "spontaneous" prayer. 

"Why should prayer be structured? Why shouldn't we just pray to God in our own words?"

That was a question that a caller asked me yesterday on Relevant Radio's "On Call" program. The host, Wendy Wiese, had been discussing the Liturgy of the Hours with me for the better part of half an hour when caller asked his question. I didn't ask first whether he was Catholic or Protestant. That might have given me information that would have helped me tailor my answer. But there's nothing like unscripted Q&A's to induce a grand fit of I-should- have-saids  later on.

I answered that prayer could and should be both: at times informal, simple conversation with God. Brief phrases of faith, trust, praise and love. But most of us need structure at times as well. Unless our energy level and emotions are at perfect pitch, we often don't know what to say when we pray, or don't feel much like praying. Structured prayer--by which we mean using words that others have written, in a certain pattern or method--is a great help. These prayers give us, as Pope Benedict put it, "the language for the encounter with God."  And when God has given us inspired prayers, such as the psalms, it's probably because he wants us to use them!

Later, another caller supported what I was saying by bringing up the example of buying greeting cards for our loved ones on special days. Sure, we are perfectly capable of saying "I love you." "Happy Birthday" , and whatnot. So why do we waste time browsing through phrases and verses printed with a pretty picture and hawked by Hallmark?  That's a very "structured" way to communicate love or good wishes, don't you think?

I wonder if people who defend spontaneous prayer by denigrating structured/memorized/liturgical prayer less likely to buy greeting cards for their spouses, lovers, children, etc., than the rest of us? They ought to do  a study on this.

Do you have any simple, articulate responses to the informal vs.formal prayer issue? If so, share them here.