Why pray?

Top tips for deepening your prayer life

Praying in the Cathedral

What is prayer?

Christianity has been described as, "...a way of life and a way of prayer". This suggests that, rather than being an add-on, something to aspire to if one is a particularly holy person, prayer is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian, a disciple of Jesus.

Poets and hymn writers have expressed this vividly. According to the poet-priest George Herbert, prayer is "...God's breath in man returning to his birth."

In similar vein, hymn writer James Montgomery, wrote "Prayer is the Christian's vital breath, the Christian's native air..." These words remind us of Scripture's picture of the Holy Spirit as 'God's breath' in the follower of Christ... "[Jesus] breathed on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit'." (John 20:22)

What do I think I am doing when I pray?

In reply to that question, former Archbishop Rowan Williams once replied, "As a Christian, my understanding is that what I'm doing is allowing the life of Jesus to come alive in me with the Holy Spirit... So when I pray I'm trying to make room for that." ( BBC Radio 4 programme, Something Understood, September 2009.)

It's worth thinking about that again... When we pray, what is going on is that we are trying make room for something special to happen: to allow "the life of Jesus to come alive in [us] by the Holy Spirit."

This tells us something else about prayer, something which all of the great teachers about prayer would have us learn. Prayer, at its heart, has more to do with God's working in us than with what we are doing.

How can I deepen my experience of prayer?

There are many ways in which each of as individuals might develop, and deepen, a regular practice of private prayer - to support and strengthen our experience of prayer and worship with others. One helpful resource is the leaflet entitled ' Prayer', produced by the Retreat Association.

In the pattern of prayer illustrated in the leaflet, we are introduced to something else that is at the heart of Christian prayer: silence and stillness. In prayer, silence and stillness represent, amongst other things, attitudes of waiting, openness, and trust.