Crossed The Tiber

An Evangelical Converts to Catholicism

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Location: Pennsylvania, United States

I was born into the Catholic faith. At 14, I was "born again" and found Jesus personally but lost His Church. After thirty years as an evangelical protestant, I have come full circle to find that He has been there all the time, in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. I wish others to find the beauty and truth of the Catholic faith as I have found.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Spontaneous Versus Written Prayers


Since my last post, I have been thinking about how my prayer life has changed since returning to the Catholic Church. When Magister tagged me for a meme regarding what are my favorite prayers, I started thinking about the way I pray in the past 6 years as a Catholic believer vs my life before as a Protestant believer.
Since the time I was 14 years old, I was exposed to extemporaneous prayers exclusively and in my charismatic circles, there was no such thing as written prayers. Gone were the Hail Marys and the rosary (obviously) and the Our Father would be recited and prayed together only on rare, special occasions.
We became suspicious of those brethren who were not comfortable spontaneously praying in a group and those who were able to pray with authority and conviction were deemed to be "more spiritual." If I did happen to go to a more liturgical church, the pastor may have prayed a written prayer he had prepared before the event. I immediately had him pegged as someone who didn't really have a vibrant relationship with God because he wasn't being spontaneous. Yes, I really started to think like this! (Some of you reading this may admit the same thoughts)
This strange view of prayer created an environment where, as a young re-born Christian, you hoped the bible study leader would call on you to "open" or "close" in prayer. This would be your opportunity to "pray your heart out" and storm heaven with conviction and power. I realize now that we were really praying to the crowd and shaping our prayers for the listener instead of focusing on God. I do remember how some of my friends and Christian acquaintances would switch into their "prayer voice" and suddenly a 17 year old kid from Northern NJ is praying in perfect 1611 King James English! Technically, that's not speaking in tongues but speaking in "accents," but I digress.
Now as a Catholic I have found a treasure of 2000 years of wonderful prayers for all occasions and needs, re-discovering the Our Father, which Jesus himself taught us to pray. Is it less spiritual to pray a written/memorized prayer? It all comes down to the attitude of the heart. Does God not hear you because you pray a written prayer? Absolutely not. As a matter of fact, during 31 years as a "spontaneous" Christian, I found myself praying the same prayers over and over again using exactly the same words. Perhaps they were prayers I had made up myself, but basically I used these same phrases over and over again.
For instance, whenever I read scripture, I had a prayer I prayed to open my heart and mind to his word. Whenever I went to church I prayed the same prayer that I would be touched by God and touch Him as well. Whenever I fell into the same repetitive sin, I had the same prayer that I prayed over and over again asking for forgiveness. Whenever I rebuked the devil and "plead the blood", I had the same prayers. So, looking back, there may have been no difference to the way I prayed then and the way I do now! It's just now I have found prayers that have been written by saints and those who have gone before me facing the same situations in life that I have. As Thomas Howard has said in "If Your Mind Wanders At Mass", our human natures crave repetition and constancy and ritual. It is not vain, or un-spiritual to use written prayers. But it is vain and un-spiritual to pray spontaneously in a way that is meant to impress the hearers below and not God above. He remains unimpressed with 1611 KingJamesSpeak. Dost thou undertandeth wherewithal I speaketh?
Do I still pray spontaneously? Yes, of course, who doesn't? But I have added to my prayer arsenal a large collection of wonderful intercessions that captures my heart's desires and brings them before His throne. Written prayers prayed in public take the potential for pride and one's own agenda out of the equation and the prayer can then fulfill what it is intended to accomplish.

"So many confess their weakness, in denying to confess it, who, refusing to be beholden to a set form of prayer, prefer to say nonsense, rather than nothing, in their extempore expressions. More modesty, and no less piety, it had been for such men to have prayed longer with set forms that they might pray better without them." Thomas Fuller- protestant churchman/historian

15 Comments:

Blogger Bekah said...

As an introvert, being in a group expected to pray spontaneously OUT LOUD practically gave me hives. My husband would just refuse altogether. If you read your Bible carefully, you will discover that what we say is really not the point, our heart is interpreted by the Holy Spirit and the prayers themselves are brought directly into the Lord's presence in Heaven by our Guardian Angels. So, I can form my heart with a written prayer, if I am more comfortable, and Joe Evangelical can do it spontaneously. God bless him.

July 30, 2010 7:52 PM  
Blogger Joyful Catholics said...

We used to form small groups at our Sunday services at the Interdenom church we attended. It was 'uncomfortable.'

I remember Rich and I having to 'let go' to scratch our noses! That should have been a 'sign' that we don't NEED to hold hands! But, we always HAD to stand in a circle and HOLD HANDS. I guess that helped expedite the prayers straight to the ears of God! :)

I agree w/ Bekah. "Joe Evangelical can go ahead and pray his spontaneous, wordy prayers,and I pray he's not doing it 'for show' but w/ a 'right spirit' and a clean heart.

All I know is that I pray FAR MORE NOW, as a Catholic than as an evangelical. I pray spontaneously in the car,of course, since it's hard to read and drive. While at Church, though, I love my Blue Pieta Prayer book, or prayers on Holy Cards of Saints. It helps me tremendously to 'join in' w/ a written prayer of long ago by a Saint who's now IN heaven b/c I feel and believe they 'join me' and pray for me at that time!

So thank GOD for His Church, His Angels and His Saints!

The "OUR FATHER" is the prayer Jesus gave us, and I now pray that far more than I EVER did as an Evangelical.

And what spontaneous prayer, pray tell, could pass through my 'sin-stained lips' that could ever trump the Rosary?!

Good one, Russ. God bless.

July 30, 2010 8:20 PM  
Blogger Tiber Jumper said...

Yeah Bekah, I certainly say amen to that! Being an introvert, I know about them hives.

July 30, 2010 8:42 PM  
Blogger Tiber Jumper said...

Ah Susie: Your comments Brings back those memories of long sometimes painful hours standing in a circle holding hands on hot summer nights in un-air conditioned living rooms, singing "in the spirit." Sometimes it went on so long I was near to passing out, or farting, which would have made everyone else pass out.(sorry bout the juvenile humor)

But we did the same stuff as you and Rich.
One guy, who had a major problem with personal hygiene used to get a "word from the Lord." Just when you thought it was time to go home, he would start speaking like this "I am the Lord your God.... then go on and on and and.... on....., for another twenty minutes. He also didn't drive so one of us teenagers with a car always took him home, than he would often have another word from the Lord, as you were trying to drop him off in front of his rented room in a bad part of town.
Now I realize this guy was a schizophrenic, and found a nitch with a bunch of young charismatics. We thought he was a prophet. If the truth be told, i knew then he was wack, but couldn't say anything because " aprohet is without honor etc etc."
Only God knows why I didn't run back to the Catholic Church!
I knew something wasn't right, but since I had a profound conversion to Jesus among these folks I figured, it must be right.
Oh well, live and learn.
I have stories that I could post for the next year but I better not, some of the folks may be listening :)

July 30, 2010 8:52 PM  
Blogger Adoro said...

The first time I had to lead opening prayer for the RCIA I taught, I announced, much to the mirth of our new Associate priest, "I don't DO spontaneous prayer!"

Now that I work in a parish, and often have to work events and classes with the charismatic Youth Minister, there is pressure to offer "spontaneous prayer". I usually avoid it by finding some awesome prayer from scripture itself, from the writings and prayers of the Saints, from Tradition...etc.

Spontaneous prayer makes me itchy and COMPLETELY takes my focus from God and places it squarely on myself and my discomfort. Nothing in that glorifies God.

But I don't care how I sound when I'm praying the Our Father or Hail Mary...because they know that prayer, too. I can lead the Angelus, but I don't have to make up that great Mystery of the Incarnation. All I have to do is pray it. I can pray the psalms, but I don't have to make those up...those are from the Word of God, very human prayers prayed by very real humans to and about God under His inspiration.

It is very freeing to be Catholic and to not have to be a charismatic and make stuff up for the sake of others who would be better focused on God and not rolling their eyes at yet another too-long "prayer" of gobbeldegook, sound, and fury...signifying nothing.

(As an aside...had The Bard wrote Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow about charismatic & spontaneous prayer, he'd about have had it right!)

OK, off soapbox now.

July 30, 2010 10:41 PM  
Blogger Tiber Jumper said...

Adoro: Absolutely! I agree It is very freeing to be Catholic and I totally agree with that, having been on both sides now.
God bless

July 30, 2010 11:00 PM  
Blogger Aliadelaide said...

Totally agree with the freedom in being Catholic "again". We used to sing a song as protestants which went something along the lines of "just as I am...I come", meaning Jesus accepts me now as I am, but I have never felt so accepted "worts and all" than in the Catholic church. its that feeling of being out all day and you come home to your family where you can just be yourself!

July 31, 2010 2:53 AM  
Blogger Aliadelaide said...

Also the different ways of praying and spontaneous prayer always reminds me of our time in one pacific island church where "success" seemed dependent on how long and how loudly you'd prayed!Not sure you could be an introvert and survive!

July 31, 2010 2:56 AM  
Blogger Magister Christianus said...

Oh, TJ, have you ever hit upon something here. I am right there with you, having been raised in spontaneous prayer. My wife hates doing it, and usually doesn't. To be sure, it is not always for show. I have known many who have prayed this way sincerely, and I would like to think myself among them. The problem is, what if you don't feel like doing it? When we most need God, we are likely not to be in a condition where can think of the right thing to say. That is where set prayers can be such a blessing.

On top of that, the language of Ambrose, Bonaventure, Aquinas...now that is sheer poetry. It also puts the focus more on God. When I pray my own words, the focus is usually on me.

I posted on a similar topic a few months ago: http://bedlamorparnassus.blogspot.com/2010/05/just-prayer.html.

July 31, 2010 7:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi there,

I posted yesterday concerning finding a new parish. Well I've done it! I went to mass this morning and had a lovely chat with Father afterwards. Everyone was super friendly and I hope this can be my church home.

Anna

July 31, 2010 3:28 PM  
Blogger Tiber Jumper said...

That's great Anna!

July 31, 2010 3:37 PM  
Blogger NanaR said...

I fell in love with the Catholic Church when I began exploring her prayers. Such beauty, depth, intensity, joy, penance, praise and pure Love as I had never seen. It was then that I understood something I was told once -- for Catholics, the Bible is a Prayer Book. Only now, after two thousand years, there are so very many more, written and prayed by faithful Christians who lived and died and who now will pray for us. The whole idea was simply overwhelming, and then I heard the Fatima prayer for the first time.

"O My Jesus" -- Wow, these Catholics talk straight to the Lord and beseech him as a trusted dear friend. I want some of that!

There is just so much more than the words we can think up in our own head. Nothing wrong with talking straight to the Father or the Son or the Holy Spirit in one's own words, but there is so much more!!

August 01, 2010 4:42 PM  
Blogger kkollwitz said...

I'm reminded of the Evangelical Lord's Prayer.

August 01, 2010 10:11 PM  
Blogger Joyful Catholics said...

Never be sorry or apologize for the 'juvenile humor' Russ. :D It has 'made me laugh' and that's a great way to start the day! Now off to pray some REAL prayers...and participate in THE MOST REAL PRAYER OF ALL...HOLY MASS!

August 03, 2010 6:47 AM  
Blogger Joyful Catholics said...

Hey Adoro- loved your "soapbox!" :D

August 03, 2010 6:50 AM  

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