There’s No Wrong Way To Pray

Andrew Sullivan —  Jun 15 2014 @ 10:46am

That’s one of the conclusions Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry came to after diving into the work of Ruth Burrows, a Carmelite nun known in her order as Sister Rachel, who’s written a number of classic books about prayer:

Whenever we think about prayer, or our prayer life, we think of prayer as a performance–as something we do for God. And we wonder whether we do it “right.” And we fuss and wonder about technique. This is quasi-Pelagianism. We Christians are under the order of grace. Our relationship with God is–must be–totally marked by grace. We are saved by God by sheer grace through Jesus Christ. God does not want performance from us. God only wants us to agree to receive his grace, which is in many ways a lot harder, because it means surrendering control, and surrendering our idolatry of ourselves. But it is also liberating, because it means there is no “wrong” way to pray. We don’t have to worry about praying “wrongly”, because whatever we do, what matters is what God does to us, not the other way around. … [Burrows] stresses that even the great “mystics” and saints of this highly-mystical Tradition mostly had basically the same prayer experience as most of us every day: dryness, distraction, frustration, and so on.

In an interview in 2012, after the release of her book Love Unknown, Burrow expanded on this point:

Prayer can never be a failure. If I used that expression it would refer to how people express themselves: “I can’t pray”; “my prayer is a failure”; “I pray and nothing happens; I’m praying to myself.” This is to have a completely false idea of prayer. To believe in the God of Jesus Christ is to know that, through what God in his love has done for us, there is absolutely no barrier between God and ourselves. We have free access. God is always available, always there, always with us—with you, with me. …

Prayer is essentially God’s work. Our part is to give time, do our best to keep attention, surrender ourselves as best we can. Then we can be sure that God works. Faith does not ask for signs, for tokens. When we really grasp that prayer is essentially God’s business, not ours, we will never talk of failure, no matter how unsatisfactory prayer seems to us.