Discernment through prayer
Many styles of prayer can support your discernment process. The prayer practices noted here are only a few examples, with specific prayers and prayer descriptions outlined below to encourage you in your discernment:
Praying in color
Praying with singing or chanting
Praying through repetition
In Latin, lectio divina literally means “divine reading.” It can also be translated as “holy reading” or “reading with God.” Lectio Divina is an ancient way of praying meditatively with the Bible so that the Word of God can permeate our hearts and minds. It is a simple and natural way of meditation practiced by the early monastics—women and men who followed God’s call to a radical vocation of silence, prayer and love. Other great faith traditions—including Islam, Judaism and Buddhism—independently developed similar methods for meditative reading of sacred texts. In the 12th century, a Carthusian monk named Guigo described four stages in the practice of lectio divina:
The first stage is lectio: reading scripture slowly and reflectively.
The second stage is meditatio: reflecting quietly on the text as we read it.
The third stage is oratio: responding to the text and to God through prayer.
The final stage is contemplatio: resting and listening at the deepest level to God who speaks within us and transforms us.
Gather pen, markers, crayons, and paper for the practice of praying in color. Approach the blank piece of paper as an invitation to “be” with God. Start by writing a word on the paper; it might be a word that identifies a question you have about call, a word that expresses hope or worry, or a word that conveys a dream you have for the Church. Around the word, doodle in color! Continue to add words to the paper as they arise within your soul, but most of all add color and design while you remain present with the words and with God.
The power of song is its connection of soul to breath, to community, to God. Whether we sing alone or with others, whether we sing well or cannot carry a tune, song has the power to shift our spirits with melody and harmony, crescendo and silence, rhythm and lyric. For example, womanist and educator Carolyn Denard writes of the power of song during her grandmother’s decline: “While Alzheimer’s nearly took her body entirely, it did not take her memory of the song. Her spirit had rested in those old melodies. As I recall now, those songs had been her salvation for a long time” (My Soul Is a Witness, Beacon Press: 1995, pg 135; 2002 edition). Listen to music and make music during your season of discernment.
A short phrase of a prayer, scripture, poetry, or song can be repeated as a centering prayer. For example, from the Lord’s Prayer: “Hallowed be thy name.” Also frequently repeated is the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Repetitous prayers can be timed with one’s breathing as a whole-body meditation.
The biblical psalms are a creative inspiration for writing one’s own prayers. Read a psalm several times, listening for its emotion and its wisdom. Then use those themes to write your own psalm—that is, a prayer in poetic form without prose. Try your hand at writing an acrostic psalm, with one line for every letter of the alphabet (in the style of Psalms 34, 111 and 119, which follow the letters of the Hebrew alphabet). Write a psalm about creation (e.g. Psalm 148), a psalm of story (like Psalm 78), or a psalm that declares a vision (as Psalm 46:1-5 does). See Writing the Sacred for additional ideas to inspire your psalm-writing.