A Simple Way to Pray # 3
It is of great importance that the heart be made ready and eager for prayer. As the preacher says, "Prepare your heart for prayer, and do not tempt God" (Ecclus. 18:23). What else is it but tempting God when your mouth babbles and the mind wanders to other thoughts? Like the priest who prayer, "Deus in adjutorium meum intende. Farmhand, did you unhitch the horses? Domine ad adjuvandum me festina. Maid, go out and milk the cow. Gloria patti et filio et spiritui sancto. Hurry up, boy, I wish the agu would take you!" I have heard many such prayers in my experience under the papacy; most of their prayers are of this sort. This is blasphemy and it would be better if they played at it if they cannot or do not care to do better. In my day I have prayed many such canonical hours myself, regrettably, and in such a manner that the psalm or the allotted time came to an end before I even realized whether I was at the beginning or in the middle.
Though not all of them blurt out the words as did the above-mentioned cleric and mix business and prayer, they do it by the thoughts in their hearts. They jump from one thing to another in their thoughts and when it is all over they do not know what they have done or what they talked about. They start with Laudate and right away they are in a fool's paradise. It seems to me that if someone could see what arises as prayer from a cold and unattentive heart he would conclude that he had never seen a more ridiculous kind of buffoonery. But, praise God, it is now clear to me that a person who forgets what he has said has not prayed well. In a good prayer one fully remembers every word and thought from the beginning to the end of the prayer.
So, a good and attentive barber keeps his thoughts, attention, and eyes on the razor and hair and does not forget he has gotten with his shaving or cutting. If he want to engage in too much conversation or let his mind wander or look somewhere else he is likely to cut his customer's mouth, nose, or even his throat. Thus if anything is to be done well, it requires the full attention of all one's senses and members, as the proverb says, "Pluribus intentus, minor est ad singula sensus" - He who thinks of many things, thinks of nothing and does nothing right." How much more does prayer call for concentration and singleness of heart if it is to be a good prayer!
This in short is the way I use the Lord's prayer when I pray it. To this day I suckle at the Lord's Prayer like a child,and as an old man eat and drink from it and never get my fill. It is the very best prayer, even better than the psalter, which is so very dear to me. It is surely evident that a real master composed and taught it. What a great pity that the prayer of such a master is prattled and chattered so irreverently all over the world!
How many pray the Lord's Prayer several thousand times in the course of a year, and if they were to keep on doing so fora thousand years they would not have tasted nor prayed one iota, one dot, of it! In a word, the Lord's Prayer is the greatest martyr on earth (as are the name and word of God). Everybody tortures and abuses it; few take comfort and joy in its proper use.
Praying the Ten Commandments: A Garland of Four Strands
If I have had time and opportunity to go through the Lord's Prayer, I do the same with the Ten Commandments. I take one part after another and free myself as much as possible from distractions in order to pray. I divide each commandment into four parts, thereby fashioning a garland of four strands. That is, I think of each commandment as, first, instruction, which is really what it is intended to be, and consider what the Lord God demands of me so earnestly. Second, I turn it into a thanksgiving; third, a confession; and fourth, a prayer.
The First Commandment: You Shall Have No Other Gods
I do so in thoughts or words such as these: "I am the Lord your God, etc. You shall have no other gods before Me," etc. Here I earnestly consider that God expects and teaches me to trust Him sincerely in all things and that it is His most earnest purpose to be my God. I must think of Him in this way at the risk of losing eternal salvation. My heart must not build upon anything else or trust in any other thing, be it wealth, prestige, wisdom, might, piety, or anything else.
Second, I give thanks for His infinite compassion by which He has come to me in such a fatherly way and, unasked, unbidden, and unmerited, has offered to be my God, to care for me, and to be my comfort, guardian, help, and strength in every time of need. We poor mortals have sought so many gods and would have to seek them still if He did not enable us to hear Him openly tell us in our own language that He intends to be our God. How could we ever in all eternity thank Him enough!
Third, I confess and acknowledge my great sin and ingratitude for having so shamefully despised such sublime teachings and such a precious gift throughout my whole life, and for having fearfully provoked His wrath by countless acts of idolatry. I repent of these and ask for His grace.
Fourth, I pray and say: "O my God and Lord, help me by Thy grace to learn and understand Thy commandments more fully every day and to live by them in sincere confidence. Preserve my heart so that I shall never again become forgetful and ungrateful, that I may never seek after other gods or other consolation on earth or in any creature, but cling truly and solely to Thee, my only God. Amen, dear Lord God and Father. Amen."
The Second Commandment: You Shall Not Misuse the Name of the Lord Your God
Afterward, if time and inclination permit, the Second Commandment likewise in four strands, like this: "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain," etc. First, I learn that I must keep God's name in honor, holiness, and beauty; not to swear, curse, not to be boastful or seek honor and repute for myself, but humbly to invoke His name, to pray, praise, and extol it, and to let it be my only honor and glory that He is my God and that I am his lowly creature and unworthy servant.
Second, I give thanks to Him for these precious gifts, that He has revealed His name to me and bestowed it upon me, that I can glory in His name and be called God's servant and creature, etc., that His name is my refuge like a mighty fortress to which the righteous man can flee and find protection, as Solomon says (Proverbs 18:10).
Third, I confess and acknowledge that I have grieviously and shamefully sinned against this commandment all my life. I have not only failed to invoke, extol, and honor His holy name, but have also been ungrateful for such gifts and have, by swearing, lying, and betraying, misused them in the pursuit of shame and sin. This I bitterly regret and ask grace and forgiveness, etc. Fourth, I ask for help and strength henceforth to learn to obey this commandment and to be preserved from such evil ingratitude, abuse, and sin against His name, and that I may be found grateful in revering and honoring His name.
I repeat here what I previously said in reference to the Lord's Prayer: if in the midst of such thoughts the Holy Spirit begins to preach in your heart with rich, enlightening thoughts, honor Him by letting go of this written scheme; be still and listen to Him who can do better than you can. Remember what He says and note it well and you will behold wondrous things in the law of God, as David says (Psalm 119:18).
continued with # 4 - (The Third Commandment: Remember the Sabbath Day to Keep It Holy