From God's fullness we have all received, grace upon grace
“Praying with a prayer-phrase: Maranatha and the Psalms”

“Praying with a prayer-phrase: Maranatha and the Psalms”

Part of being any relationship is paying attention to the other. Likewise, Christian prayer is not only praise, thanksgiving and petition – good as these are – but making space to simply ‘be’ in God’s presence. We humans cannot grasp our Creator, except in that God makes Godself known. So in contemplative prayer we place ourselves at an interior threshold, freeing the mind of all surface thoughts and waiting on God to draw us into encounter.

There are many ways that different people find helpful in preparing themselves to receive this gift and returning to the threshold. In February’s monthly news I touched on Centring Prayer, in which you choose a single sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within and, whenever you notice you are distracted by your thoughts, as a means of returning to silent loving attention.

Another approach is to repeat a short phrase over and over, to hold the surface mind’s attention while the soul encounters God in the depths. Fr John Main, the Benedictine monk who founded the World Community of Christian Meditation in London, taught this approach to prayer in his book Word Into Silence:

Sit down. Sit still and upright. Close your eyes lightly. Sit relaxed but alert. Silently, interiorly begin to say a single word. We recommend the prayer-phrase, ‘Maranatha’ [see 1 Cor 16.22]. Recite it as four syllables of equal length. Listen to it as you say it, gently but continuously. Do not think or imagine anything – spiritual or otherwise. If thoughts and images come, these are distractions at the time of meditation, so keep returning to simply saying the word.

The Psalms also contain many short phrases that can be repeated in time with your breathing to focus your mind and still your thoughts. Here are some examples:

  • “O God, you are my God; eagerly I seek you” (Ps 63.1; all Common Worship psalter)
  • “You will show me the path of life” (Ps 16.10)
  • “God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever” (Ps 73.26)
  • “On God alone my soul in stillness waits” (Ps 62.1)
  • “Into your hands I commend my spirit” (Ps 31.5)
  • “Be still, and know that I am God. Be still, and know that I am. Be still, and know. Be still. Be.” (a suggested use of Ps 46.10)

As John Main also wrote:

The important aim … is to allow God’s mysterious and silent presence within us to become more and more not only a reality but the reality which gives meaning, shape and purpose to everything we do, everything we are.


Find prayer resources and groups at The World Community for Christian Meditation


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.