Gracefully incorporating prayer into your daily life is not a matter of the more prayer the better, says Elizabeth J. Canham, doctor of ministry, an Episcopal priest who directs the Stillpoint Ministries in Black Mountain, North Carolina. Think in terms of quality, not quantity. Also think in terms of rhythm and tone.
Dr. Canham sets a prayerful tone for her day by spending about an hour in prayer each morning. (If you're unused to prayer, she recommends you start with a much shorter period of time and build up gradually.) She has a sacred space in her house set aside for prayer, and she usually begins by lighting an oil lamp and doing some stretching and deep-breathing exercises. She also sips a cup of coffee. "It took me a while to realize that there's nothing unspiritual about praying with a good cup of high-test coffee," she says.
A typical morning's prayer session for Dr. Canham includes some time spent in silent prayer, some time meditating on scripture, and some time journaling. She recommends that you use one of the many available books of daily scripture readings or daily meditations rather than choosing passages at random. As an Episcopalian, Dr. Canham follows the daily rites suggested in the Book of Common Prayer. Often her journal-writing expands on thoughts she has while meditating on scripture.
Morning prayer establishes a sort of spiritual set-point for the day, says Dr. Canham. Her goal then is to apprehend as much as possible the presence of God in all things. To aid in this, she often tries to find a line or two of scripture to think about as she goes about her daily business. Once, for example, she had a line in her head from the psalms about God giving strength to those who follow him. That thought gave her comfort as she ruminated during her morning walk about some anxieties she was experiencing in her work.
Dr. Canham also has identified events that routinely crop up during her day - "triggers," she calls them - which signal her to repeat specific prayers. Whenever she comes to a red light, for example, she silently repeats to herself the opening words of Psalm 63 (as translated in the Book of Common Prayer): "For God alone my soul in silence waits." These help her appreciate what Jean-Pierre de Caussade, an eighteenth-century Jesuit priest, called "the sacrament of the present moment."
The second major prayer session in Dr. Canham's daily regimen comes at night. In her book Heart Whispers: Benedictine Wisdom for Today, she outlines the five-step exercise with which she routinely ends her day.
1. Give Thanks
Reflect back on the day, looking for all the gifts God has given you, and also for the moments in which your needs might have been revealed. Express your gratitude to God for gifts received and allow that gratitude to sink into your heart.
2. Ask for Insights
Pray that the Holy Spirit will reveal to you insights about the day's events that you might not have seen by yourself.
3. Look for God
Go over the day's events again, this time focusing on the various moods and emotions you experienced. What might those emotions have been telling you about the will of God? Was God pulling you in a particular direction? Were you especially aware of God's presence in another person during the day? How did you respond to these experiences or situations?
4. Express Repentance and Gratitude
Ask God to forgive you for those moments when you were unresponsive to the Divine presence, and pray that you receive the willingness to be more responsive in the future. Give God thanks and praise for those moments when you were responsive to the Divine will.
5. Receive Help and Guidance for Tomorrow
Ask God to give you whatever you will need to move faithfully through tomorrow. Pray specifically for the strength to deal with your spiritual struggles, such as fighting anger or finding the ability to forgive.