Rev. Dr. Jim Waters, PhD Chancellor   [email protected]

Methods of Prayer for Seminarians and Clergy

Many Prayer Methods

  • Lectio Divina divine reading

    One of the most central and ancient practices of Christian prayer is lectio divina, or divine reading. In lectio divina, we begin by reading a few verses of the Bible. We read unhurriedly so that we can listen for the message God has for us there...

    learn more
  • Ignatian Method virtual experience of scripture

    Think of the Ignatian Method-named after Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) - as a sort of virtual experience of the scripture where you read the scripture and then create in your mind a short film about what you read...

    learn more
  • Praying the Psalms the Bible's book of prayer

    Psalms has been called the prayer book of the Bible in both Jewish and Christian traditions. It is a collection of sung prayers that has been used in worship from the time of ancient Israel up to the present...

    learn more
  • Icons praying with eyes wide open

    Many of us were taught to close our eyes when we pray. Praying with icons is an ancient prayer practice that involves keeping our eyes wide open, taking into our heart what the image visually communicates...

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  • personalizing scripture

    The Bible contains prayers and canticles (songs) that give us words to pray and praise. Many, such as the Lord's Prayer, the Magnificat, and the Canticle of Simeon, have become part of the common prayer of the church liturgy...

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  • The Examen remembering the day

    In his Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius urged that all be taught the examen, a daily examination of our deepest feelings and desires. He called these feelings our consolations (what connects us with God, others and ourselves) and desolations (what disconnects us)...

    learn more
  • Praying As We Are your favorite way to pray

    So, now you know you are a Lover, Mystic, Prophet, or Sage. (If not, take the Spiritual Types Quiz.) Did you know that each of the spiritual types has a favorite way to pray? ...

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  • Making Decisions a way to reach clarity

    Looking for clarity? Learn the Quaker way of the Clearness Committee to help with making tough decisions....

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Intro: Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-42)

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, "Lord, do you not care thta my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me."

But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her."

Luke 10:38-42, NRSV

Step One

Picture yourself in that home when Jesus arrives as a welcomed guest. Imagine that you are Martha, feeling responsible for entertaining your guest, for providing refreshments and preparing a meal. Maybe you feel stressed out by all the effort it takes to be hospitable. On top of all that, your slacker sister Mary is not doing her share of the work. Have you ever felt like that? If so, in what kinds of situations or with whom? Do you hear Jesus words to you as rebuke or invitation?

Step Two

Now step into Mary's shoes. You don't get much company anyway, but this is Jesus-- wonderful, wise, kind Jesus. You forget everything else in your desire to spend time with the Lord, sitting at his feet and drinking in his presence.  Why doesn't Martha see the opportunity she's missing by being in the kitchen? What emotions are you experiencing as you are aware of her irritation with you? What would you like to tell Martha? What would you like to tell Jesus?

Step Three

With which of these two characters do you most identify? What do you have to say to God about your own experience in relation to these two characters? What are you really longing for in your own heart? Let the story and your presonal engagement with it lead you into prayer.

Choose a verse:


  • On the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35)


  • Storm at Sea (Mark 4:35 -41)


  • Woman with Hemorrhage (Mark 5:21, 24-34)


  • The Tax Collector and the Pharisee (Luke 18:9-14


  • Jesus and the Awesome Catch of Fish (Luke 5:1-11)
On Prayer

One of the themes I hear very often about prayer is: why should we pray if God knows everything? In a way the question and the statement make sense. The discipline of prayer is not as easy as it looks. There is a certain human inclination to believe that we can solve every problem by ourselves, in which case, why should we get God involved?

Somehow the thinking implies our difficulty to recognize who is God for us. If what we are expecting is to pray to a God who will respond like a Santa Claus, we can definitely say: why pray? From this point of view, all we need to do is to tell God what we want, and God will agree to it or simply say no to our petition. When we limit our prayer to the perspective of God knowing or not our petitions, we are looking at prayer in a mechanistic way.

The gospels talk about Jesus spending the night in prayer, getting away to pray (Matthew 14.23; Mark 1.35; Luke 6.12; 9.29). All the great figures of the Christian Church who has written about prayer refer to it as an interaction with a real Being. Prayer is not a formula, nor a position, or a posture or a method. Prayer is communion with the Creator of the Universe, is a conversation in which we receive as much as we communicate. In real prayer we are not only expressing what is in us, but we are being transformed by the One to whom we speak.

This God is not managed or controlled by our human limitations. While praying, if this is our God, we are not telling God to run our errands, but we are worshiping and hearing what He has to say. In a prayer like this we need time to receive what God has to say, as well as willingness to be transformed in the process. This God has authority over us; we do not have the capacity to control Him. At the same time, this is a loving God who wants to be in dialogue with his creatures. So, even when we may think that we should not be saying what God already knows, it is important to be in dialogue to let ourselves be transformed by the One who can renew our lives daily.


Read John 3:16. 
God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
- John 3:16 (NRSV)

Repeat this verse prayerfully as a way of focusing on God. Open your spirit to the loving attitude of Jesus Christ who allowed himself to be given for our salvation. Give yourself to the flow of God's boundless love for the whole world, a love that flows in and through you. As people and situations come to mind, bring them into the flow and allow them to be washed in God's boundless love. Finally, carry some part of John 3:16 with you in your daily activities as a way of practicing openness to God's love. Record your experience.

Seven Suggestions for Healing and Renewal in the Midst of Stress and Anxiety  

by Flora S. Wuellner

God longs to heal us and renew us in these difficult times. The greater our responsibilities, the deeper is our need for sustenance.
Jesus filled the nets of his disciples, built a fire on the beach and warmed them, cooked and served them breakfast before he sent them out to feed the hungers of the world (John 21).
Here are some suggested ways by which we can be fed by God at a deep level. We each respond to God's love in unique ways, so we may find some of these suggestions more helpful than others.

1. It is vitally important to be aware of, and to honor our feelings, and to let God's love enfold us as we feel them: whether anxiety, anger, grieving, loneliness. Jesus felt all these things and trusted God enough to share them.

2. It is deeply healing also to share what we feel with a trusted friend or small group, especially those who know how to pray with us and for us, who know how to listen without interruption and instant spiritual prescriptions.

3. It is both healing and strengthening when in the midst of conflict and anxiety producing situations to pay attention to our breathing, and to notice where our bodies feel especially stressed, tight, uncomfortable. It helps then to think of the living Christ beside us, enfolding us in God's healing light (or some other image or thought) especially around the tight, stressed bodily areas. Then let the breathing become slow, deep, and gentle.

4. In the midst of painful or intense encounter with others, whether in person, over the telephone, by letter or e-mail, we can think of Christ's light enfolding the other person as well as ourselves, sheltering, guiding, and renewing both of us, so that neither is drained or absorbs the toxicity. The same can be done in difficult committee sessions. The Bible is full of helpful images of God's sheltering love: God's hands, arms, enfolding wings, strong rocks, high mountains, healing rivers and pools of living water, green fields, empowering light.For some of us, an inwardly spoken word is more helpful: release, peace, love, Risen Christ, Healing Spirit, and so on.

5. Each day let us encourage one another to take some intentional time, even if for only a few minutes, just to rest in God's closeness, without any intense agenda. This fills our inner reservoirs of body and spirit. Some prefer to sit or lie down in silence, or hearing special music. Some prefer to walk and notice what God wants to show them. Some like to dance, stretch, paint, garden. Others may wish to hold a special picture that reminds them of God's love, or a special cloth, a flower, a rock, or some other object. The important thing is just to soak in God's healing nearness without agendas. This can be done either in various moments throughout the day, or at a special time, whatever works best for us.

6. Before an appointment, committee meeting, a personal encounter, or a challenging piece of work, we can think of Jesus' promise to go ahead of us to prepare the place for us (John 14:3). We can picture or just think of the Healer already in that future place, office, room, filling that space with empowering, healing, guiding light: the doorway, windows, chairs, desk, etc. When we and others arrive at that future place and experience, we will feel the warmth and strength welcoming us.

7. At the end of a full, demanding day, as we prepare for sleep, it is deeply cleansing and releasing to take a few slow, deep, gentle breaths, and then to release the events and the persons we met during the day into God's hands or into God's heart.

Copyright © 2001 Flora S. Wuellner. Used with permission of the publisher, The Upper Room.

Flora S. Wuellner, is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. After serving several parishes, she moved into the ministry of Spiritual Renewal, teaching as adjunct faculty member at Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley, California. Flora works in spiritual direction, retreat leadership and writing. Her latest book is Miracle: When Christ Touches Our Deepest Need. She lives in Fair Oaks, California.


Psalms has been called the prayer book of the Bible in both Jewish and Christian traditions. It is a collection of sung prayers that has been used in worship from the time of ancient Israel up to the present. Because the psalms range so widely in emotional expression, from the heights of adoration and praise to the depths of vengeful curses against the enemy, they have special relevance to our prayer life. They teach us to hide nothing from God, but to bring all that is real into the only relationship that can bless the best and heal the worst in us.

No matter what we are feeling -- distress, trust, anger or delight, we find the words of the psalms accompany us into God's presence. ... In the psalms we find words to express every conceivable human condition and feeling. These prayers give us words to glorify, confess, hope, ask, and even curse. In so doing, they give us permission to share our whole being with God.

Ready to try it?

Scripture Choice

Pray these psalms or portions of psalms as prayers to God, expressing honestly your deepest feelings:

   • Psalm 70

   • Psalm 73

   • Psalm 77

   • Psalm 6

   • Psalm 9

   • Psalm 23

   • Psalm 17

   • Psalm 29

One of the most central and ancient practices of Christian prayer is lectio divina, or divine reading. In lectio divina, we begin by reading a few verses of the Bible. We read unhurriedly so that we can listen for the message God has for us there. We stay alert to connections the Spirit may reveal between the passage and what is going on in our lives. We ask, "What are you saying to me today, Lord? What am I to hear in this story, parable, or prophecy?" Listening in this way requires patience and a willingness to let go of our own agendas and open ourselves to God's shaping.

Once we have heard a word that we know is meant for us, we are naturally drawn to prayer. From listening we move to speaking -- perhaps in anguish, confession or sorrow; perhaps in joy, praise, thanksgiving or adoration; perhaps in anger, confusion or hurt; perhaps in quiet confidence, trust or surrender. Finally, after pouring out our heart to God, we come to rest simply and deeply in that wonderful, loving presence of God. Reading, reflecting, responding and resting -- this is the basic rhythm of divine reading.



The simple process of Bible reflection known as lectio divina is intended specifically for spiritual nourishment. We often think of reading the Bible as a process of study. But there is a way of reading the Bible devotionally to satisfy spiritual thirst. Christians have long known a means of turning to scripture that transcends any time and culture-specific references, reaching into the reader's present experience to facilitate spiritual growth.** Yet this older process has been set aside in the "rational" centuries from the Reformation (sixteenth century) through the Enlightenment (eighteenth century); that is, the time when a definitive split between sacred and secular emerged through dramatic changes in philosophy and the arts, politics and economics, trade and daily life. In general, our post-Enlightenment twentieth century tends to emphasize a historical and analytical approach toward any text. Systematic analysis of the scripture has yielded many valuable insights about events at the time of writing, the relationship between various editors, and the like. But these details have tended to overwhelm a more devotional method of presence to the scripture. While this approach has achieved many gains, it has neglected an older tradition that viewed the Bible as an aid to the spiritual life rather than chiefly a source of data or information!


It is now difficult for us to imagine what a devotional approach to the Bible might mean, much less how to go about it. Yet the ancient Christian art of Bible reading for spiritual growth has never been totally lost, and today it is gradually reemerging in several radically different Christian settings -- from monastic communities in the United States to recently evangelized African Christians. Lectio divina offers a means of Bible reading available to all for spiritual growth.


The ancient Christian tongue twister name is lectio divina (pronounced lex-ee-oh dih-vee-nuh). This Latin phrase literally translates into English as "divine reading" and refers primarily to the reading of sacred scriptures as practiced by the early Christian fathers and mothers. In Latin as in English, the adjective "divine" refers both to the material being read (the divine word) and the method of reading (an inspired approach). The Latin also carries a tradition of meaning that is vaster than the literal English translation suggests. Therefore, we continue to use the Latin phrase and usually shorten it simply to lectio.


Historically, both individuals and groups use lectio with much variation in actual practice. It focuses on the good word of God as revealed in divine scriptures, although it can be practiced on other readings of spiritual depth and on events drawn from daily life also. Lectio looks to the Bible as the word of God, a privileged text from which Christians receive continued nourishment. Yet lectio is not Bible study, for it involves neither an analysis of a scripture passage nor an emphasis on text information. Scripture study is an essential supplement to ongoing lectio but is not directly involved in this process. Above all, lectio is undertaken in the conviction that God's word is meant to be a "good" word; that is, something carrying God's own life in a way that benefits the one who receives it faithfully. Lectio turns to the scripture for nurture, comfort, and refreshment. Lectio is an encounter with the living God; it is prayer.


Lectio is a way of deep prayer, of encounter with God. Yet this mode of deep prayer differs from much modern practice. It involves reason and discursive thought, an inner exploration of meaning. It connects daily prayer both with the credal truths of the Christian tradition and with life's current issues. Lectio fully engages the mind and the body as active partners in spiritual nourishment. Lectio has both an active mode and a receptive mode; both are essential to its practice. For example, the meditative lectio phrase is not the same as a mantra, which is intended to quiet mental thought in order to deepen spiritual centering. On the contrary, in lectio we use the gifted phrase as a means of interacting directly with the actual situations of life, evoking new images and possibilities that empower us to live in congruence with our faith. The lectio phrase is the fruitful word of God in the sense that Isaiah intends it:


For as the rains and snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11, NRSV)


**The primary source for lectio divina is monastic experience, especially as required by the Rule of Saint Benedict of Nursia, who makes lectio a substantial element in each day's schedule. He wrote the Rule in the mid-sixth century, and it has formed the basis for Christian monastic practice since then. See The Rule of Saint Benedict in Latin and English with Notes, Timothy Fry, Senior Editor and Translator (Collegeville, Minn.: The Liturgical Press, 1981) or Norvene Vest's commentary on the Rule called Preferring Christ, which has a translation of the Rule by Luke Dysinger (Trabuco Canyon, Calif.: Source Books, 1991).


Think of the Ignatian Method -- named after Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) -- as a sort of virtual experience of the scripture where you read the scripture and then create in your mind a short film about what you read.

You use your imagination to enter into the reading, asking yourself ...

• What do I see and hear? What do I smell, taste, or touch?
• Who are the characters and what's going on with them?
• If I were in this movie, what role would I play?
• If I were Jesus in this story, what would I be thinking, feeling, saying?

In the Ignatian Method, you enter into the story so that you can learn more about and participate more fully in the mind, the heart, and the work of Christ.



Attributed to Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) and articulated in his "Spiritual Exercises," the Ignatian method of praying the Bible invites us to enter actively and fully into the text. It encourages detachment from either ego-driven success or fear-motivated anxiety, leaving the soul free to obey God's stirrings.

Generally, Ignatian prayer works best with narrative material in which actual characters live a story of faith. The idea is to place yourself into the text as a careful observer -- a fly on the wall. Ignatius commended the use of the five senses in such meditation. You taste, hear, see, smell and feel your way through the passage. Occasionally you become one of the characters, seeing the story unfold from his or her viewpoint. Most of all, the aim is to help you perceive the narrative from the viewpoint of Jesus so that you may more fully participate in his mind, heart, and work.

In his Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius urged that all be taught the examen, a daily examination of our deepest feelings and desires. He called these feelings our consolations (what connects us with God, others and ourselves) and desolations (what disconnects us). He believed that God would speak to us through these feelings and desires. It's not surprising that this saint felt so strongly about the examen -- this prayer practice changed him from a wild soldier to a pilgrim walking barefoot to Jerusalem.

The examen helps us:
• Acknowledge sad or painful feelings and hear how God is speaking to us through them.
• Overcome a pessimistic outlook by encouraging us notice the good in each day.
• Tell the truth about who we truly are and what we need, rather than who we think we should be.
• Become aware of seemingly insignificant moments that ultimately can give direction for our lives.

Preparation: You may wish to light a candle. Do whatever helps you to experience God's loving presence with you. Take a few deep breaths. Breathe in God's love, and when you breathe out, fill the space around you with it.



The Examen Q&A

1. Is it better to do the examen alone or with others?

Either way is helpful, but sharing the examen with others gives us a chance to enter into one another's hearts. Not only do the moments we choose to speak about become more real and important to us, but so do the people with whom we share. Families with children find the examen process helps kids put into words the deep feelings within them.

2. Will this examen process keep me from making mistakes and wrong decisions?

The examen does have some safeguards built into it that can help us avoid mistakes and wrong decisions. For example, it gives us a process for reflecting upon our choices over time rather than acting hastily. Before making an important decision, we can watch for a pattern of consolation and desolation over many weeks, months or perhaps years.

However, as long as we are human nothing can guarantee that we will never make a mistake or a wrong decision. What the examen does do is allow mistakes and wrong decisions to become opportunities for learning and growth.

3. Why acknowledge and listen to our desolation? Shouldn't we just forget it and focus on the good?

We are naturally meant to be in touch with the story of our experience. However, many of us have learned to repress or deny what our desolation wants to say to us, through family background and through our culture that teaches us to avoid and deny pain. The examen is a way of relearning this skill, and if we do it each day we probably will get better at hearing what God is trying to say to us in our desolation.

Excerpted from SLEEPING WITH BREAD: Holding What Gives You Life by Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn, Matthew Linn, copyright © 1995. Used with permission of Paulist Press.