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Monday, March 9, 2009

Different ways to pray

The fifth page for Lent 2, Sunday, March 8, 2009

John Ackerman is a Presbyterian minister who lives and works in Minneapolis. He is also an experienced spiritual director, and author. I have been reading his book “Spiritual Awakening: A guide to spiritual life in congregations”, which he wrote to help people who are “learning to recognize God’s hand and voice in every aspect of life.”

Ackerman’s phrase provides a good way to think about what it means to grow spiritually. He wrote a short paper entitled “Finding Your Way: Personalized Practices for Spiritual Growth “, for the Alban Institute. (Alban is a kind of “think tank” and resource centre for North American churches.) In this paper, he borrows from the wisdom of 12 step programs, which are essentially spiritual in nature, to discuss what most of us need to grow, and to sustain our truest selves:

“ three recommended practices or disciplines are prayer, meditation, and personal evaluation or inventory as outlined in Steps Ten and Eleven. Step Ten is “Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.” Step Eleven is “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry that out.”

If we are going to grow in our capacity to see God at work in our lives, we need to deepen in our self-awareness, if only to better distinguish what is from “me” and what is of “God” Itis also good to have a regular practice of prayer.

Prayer is something we may think should come naturally, like breathing or eating, but is not easy for many people. Part of the “problem” may be that in order to pray, we have to be quiet, and present with ourselves, before God. We don’t all know ourselves, or accept ourselves well enough for that. Another part of the “problem” may be that we have tried to pray, but have not found a way to pray that seems to “work”.

Ackerman’s encourages people to take an MBTI (Myers-Briggs Temperament Inventory) test to get a read on four aspects of their personality. Are you introverted or extroverted? Are you intuitive, or do you work mostly from your senses? Are you primarily a “Thinker” or a “Feeler”? Are you likely to make definitive judgments on things, or do you perceive the big picture? He goes on to suggest ways of praying that might be fruitful for people of different personality types.

I find it liberating to be reminded that if the way I “ have always done” prayer is not working well, I can try another approach.