What is prayer and
how do I start?

So, what's the secret of prayer?

 The American monk and activist
 Thomas Merton once wrote:
"The secret of prayer is
 hunger for God.
 The will to pray is
 the essence of prayer."

 I don't feel I've ever got
 much beyond this.

Most of my prayer seems to be
taking up with my longing for God
and my longing to pray.

Most books I've read about prayer
don't tell you this.
They tend to describe the benefits of prayer,
but gloss over the mechanics of getting there.

Here you will find some practical advice
and encouragement to actually start praying.

Your wanting to pray is the beginning
of a relationship with God
that can grow and grow.
And it can start anywhere.

Don't worry if you find it difficult.
It doesn't depend on you nearly as much as you think.
"I cannot pray," the great Dutch spiritual writer
Henri Nouwen once said,
but God can pray in me.

It took me a long while to learn this,
and even so it is a truth I often forget.
I imagine prayer to be somehow
dependent on my effort, or worse, my eloquence.

God calls out to every human heart
and longs to make a home in every human heart.
But God waits for us to respond.
There is a paradox to prayer.
It is all about the gift of God,
and God praying in us, but it also has to be
an act of human will.

God calls out to every human heart
and longs to make a home in every human heart.
But God waits for us to respond.
When we do, it is God's delight to come to us
and sing his song within us.
Our voice - however faint and unsure of the tune -
is joined to the song of the Spirit.

My own working definition of prayer is this:
Prayer is the lover coming into the presence
of the beloved and saying, "I love you."
This is an entirely different way of thinking
about prayer.
It is not about what we "put in" or "get out",
but focuses entirely on God.

God is the great lover. We are God's beloved.
God is constantly coming into our presence
to say that he loves bus.
Most of the time,
we probably won't be aware of this.
But that doesn't mean God isn't there.
We aren't usually aware of the air we breathe.
But we keep on breathing.

Prayer is the most natural thing in the world.
It has been said that prayer is as natural
as a flower opening its petals to the sun.
But it can also be the hardest.

There will be dark and difficult times
when prayer feels impossible.
It requires discipline as well as desire.
Because it is relationship,
it is about letting go and allowing
someone else to be at the centre of your life.

I am not a Christian because I know lots of things
about God, but because I know God.

This relationship,
which God has initiated through his love,
is one we enter freely.
God will never force his way into our lives.
But the great paradox of this relationship
is that when we put Jesus at the centre of our life,
he puts us at the centre of his.

Like all relationships,
it needs to be worked at.
And it is through prayer that our relationship
with God is nurtured and sustained.

"You learn to pray by praying."
Elizabeth Obbard, To Live is to Pray

There is no right way,
or place or posture for praying.
Just the way that is right for you.
Feeling comfortable is vital.
You don't, for instance, have to kneel down.
Sitting in an easy chair,
or lying on the floor is just as good.

Using set prayers is one of the best ways to get started.
If you use your own words,
do not worry that they won't be good enough.
Even if you find you find you have no words,
offer God your thoughts, even your
distractions and anxieties.
Give him the time you have set aside.

Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open,
all desires known,
and from whom no secrets are hidden:
cleanse the thoughts of our hearts
by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit,
that we may perfectly love you,
and worthily magnify your holy name;
through Christ our Lord. Amen.

(A prayer of preparation
(The Collect for Purity)
from Common Worship)

 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