From God's fullness we have all received, grace upon grace
“Discerning the path of prayer”

“Discerning the path of prayer”

Last month I wrote about how prayer methods or techniques should not be confused with prayer itself, but are nevertheless valuable ways of getting your ego out of the way and lowering your resistance to being overtaken by love. It’s a way of making concrete or embodying your desire for God.

Finding a path that helps is a process of discernment, and different approaches help different people at different times. So to start, here are some words from Dom John Chapman: “Pray as you can and do not try to pray as you can’t. Take yourself as you find yourself: start from that.” God is always waiting for you where you are, not where you think you ought to be.

Pay attention to your intuition and inclination. Are you drawn to a particular method? Does it ring true to you and is it helping? If it really does not fit, move on and find another that does. If it does fit, stay faithful to it and persevere in it.

It won’t necessarily feel easy. You may experience some initial resistance, and there may be periods of discouragement or boredom. As the Rule of St Benedict indicates, “we get up and fall down, and get up and fall down…” Like exercise, it might be a struggle to get down to it and keep at it, and it could take a few months to notice a difference, whatever that might be. But there is meaning in the struggle, because it too is transformative.

Thankfully, prayer doesn’t just depend on you and your ability. Better to accept your inability and allow God to achieve prayer in you, and eventually you may get a second wind and a renewed desire.

So give it time. Do not be like a spiritual shopper flitting between methods. Thomas Merton wrote in his typically forthright way: If you can never make up your mind what God wills for you, but are always veering from one opinion to another, from one practice to another, from one method to another, it may be an indication that you are trying to get around God’s will and do your own with a quiet conscience… So keep still, and let [God] do some work.”

Though having written all that… I would still say that it is good occasionally to try other methods, to keep things fresh and gain new perspectives. Or it may be that your current method stops helping. In which case consider pausing. Perhaps after a time you will be drawn to return, or to seek another method.

Again, test and trust your inclination. God is calling to you in the depths of your soul, always waiting for you where you are. And as Thomas Merton also said, “A little sincerity goes a long long way.”


This is one of a series of articles appearing in Exeter Cathedral’s monthly news, complementing the material I contributed to the “Explore Prayer” section of the Cathedral website. I hope you find them helpful.