What is prayer and
how do I start?

How should I pray?

'When you were at school
 you were probably taught to
 put your hands together
 when you prayed.
 But in one of his many books
 about prayer, Henri Nouwen says
 that when we pray
"we are asked to open up our
 tightly clenched fists".'

So why not start by holding
your clenched fist in front of you,
and then slowly opening it up
to receive from God
the blessings and wisdom
God longs to give you.
In this way - your hands open before God -
your hand itself can be a basic pattern
and reminder of how to pray:

Using your hand as a model for prayer

When something is good
you give it the "thumbs up".
So start with thanksgiving.
Count your blessings.
What are the good things
in your life?
Thank God for them.

2.Index finger

This is the finger you use to point.
Pray for direction in your life;
the decisions you need to make;
the things for which you are responsible;
the things you are concerned about.
Pray for direction in our world and
for the challenges we face.

3.Middle finger

This is the tallest finger.
Pray for the important people
who have power in the world;
national and local politicians; the Royal Family and
other world leaders
and their governments.

4.Ring finger

If you are married,
you wear your wedding ring on this finger.
It is also the weakest finger.
It can't do much on its own.
Pray for your family and friends.
Pray for the people upon whom
you are dependent,
and the people
who are dependent on you.

5.Little finger

This is the smallest
and the last finger on your hand.
Pray for the poor, the weak,
the helpless, the vulnerable,
the excluded, the hungry, the sick,
the ill and the bereaved.
Remember those who have died.
And finally -
lifting both your hands to God
in thanksgiving -
pray for yourself

The sign of the cross

This leads us to probably one
of the most basic ways
of praying of all,
also using your hands.
Making a sign of the cross
on your forehead or your body.
It is one of the ways
many Christians begin
and end a time of prayer.

The sign of the cross
reminds us that we
belong to Jesus.

In Baptism -
the start of the Christian life -
we are marked with the sign of the cross,
the sign that we are saved
by the suffering and death of Jesus.
In death -
if we receive the last rites -
we are marked with the cross again.
The sign of the cross
reminds us that we belong to Jesus,
the crucified one.

"Prayer is not an activity
 of the mind,
 for God is not in the head.
 It is an activity
 of the whole person,
 and God is in the wholeness."

Ken Leech, Soul Friend

What do you think of
when you make the sign of the cross?

Many Christians think of the Father,
the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Is there a verse from the Bible
or a short prayer that you
find helpful to call to mind?

Try listing the things
you are thankful for
in the morning when you get up.

Does this sometimes lead you into prayer?


God be in my head,
and in my understanding;
God be in my eyes,
and in my looking;
God be in my mouth,
and in my speaking;
God be in my heart
and in my thinking;
God be at mine end,
and at my departing

 (Sarum Primer)

 The material by Stephen Cottrell is taken from
 the illustrated Church House Publishing book
 and eBook Prayer:
 Where to Start and How to Keep Going.
 The text is © Stephen Cottrell 2020
 and includes material adapted from How to Pray,
 which is © Stephen Cottrell 1998, 2003, 2010
 and is used here with permission of
 the author and publishers.

 Prayers from Common Worship volumes
 and New Patterns for Worship are
 copyright ©The Archbishops' Council
 2000-2008 and 2002 respectively and are
 published by Church House Publishing.

 Used here with permission.
 All rights reserved.
 Scripture quotations are from the
 New Revised Standard Version of the Bible,
 Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995
 by the Division of Christian Education
 of the National Council of
 the Churches of Christ in the USA.
 Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 Illustrations are by

Copyright ©2021. The Church of England. All rights reserved.