The Limits of Spontaneous Prayer

prayerI am so amazed at how Orthodoxy is such a treasure house of resources for spiritual growth. One of these resources that I’m enjoying is written prayers. Throughout my entire Christian life, spontaneity was valued as being truly spiritual. This was especially true with prayer.

However, in his book, Beginning to Pray, Met Anthony Bloom states that while spontaneous prayer is a valid form of prayer, it’s only really possible in two situations. That’s because spontaneous prayer is a kind of prayer that “gushes out of our own souls.” Therefore, spontaneous prayer is only possible either in situations when we are vividly aware of God and that awareness calls forth a response of worship and joy or we are suddenly aware of our desperation and despair and cry out to God to save us. In this light, Met Bloom states:

“It [spontaneous prayer] comes from the depths of our soul, from either wonder or distress, but it does not come from the middle situation in which we are neither overwhelmed by the divine presence nor overwhelmed by a sense of who we are and the position in which we are. So that, at those moments, to try to use a spontaneous prayer is a completely illusory exercise.”

But Met Bloom also says it’s not enough to learn and use existing prayers, but also to live them. “A prayer makes sense only if it is lived.” He advises that when we discover a phrase in a prayer that makes sense, “you must try to apply it in the course of the day ruthlessly, for as long as you can.”

All of these thoughts on prayer came to a point when I read Shawn Ragan’s newest post, called “A Hymn of St Ephraim.” (Click on the link and take a moment to read the whole prayer.)

There is no way in my most creative and spiritual moments of spontaneity that I could have ever said anything like this. This is a prayer with which I resonate. It communicates the repentance I desire to experience, yet do not have the words to express. Orthodoxy is filled with such beautiful and powerful prayers as these.

Another prayer that we pray and with which Shawn ends his blog post is, “Through the prayers of our holy fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on us and save us. Amen.” In this prayer, I’m not only asking for the intercessions of the Saints, who are in the presence of Christ, for my salvation, but I’m also asking that my own use of their prayers — both through my voice and my life — will be unto my salvation as well.

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