I've also discovered that, strangely, we all seem to be different people. (Who'd have thought?) What works for you may not work for me, or, at least, may not be ideal for me. Thankfully, we have a long history of prayer to draw on, to find those methods and times and ways that best work for each of us. You don't have to pray just like St. Ignatius or St. Francis or St. Teresa. We love choice, and a society that can put a half dozen adjectives before the word "coffee" must be able to find joy in the wealth of different ways of prayer available!
When you have built your "mental muscle" and the habit of mental prayer, you can start to explore these different methods. There is no one set structure for mental prayer. According to St. Teresa of Avila, it is "nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us." (McClernon)
The first and most important tip, whatever approach you take, is to remember the end of prayer. The means may change - meditation on the rosary or on a Bible passage, a holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament, open dialogue - but the end, the goal, is always the same. At the other end of prayer, like the other end of a phone call, is a person. Every great saint's writing about prayer emphasizes this. You are communicating with a person.
That explains the great variety of prayer methods, doesn't it? Do we always communicate with a person in the same way? At home, I may sit and talk at my wife if I'm excited about something, never letting her get a word in. I may complain about my day. I may dialogue back and forth. I may sit and listen. (Don't forget that one!) At times, I just sit quietly in her presence; we're just quietly together without anything to say aloud, though our presence and silence can speak volumes.
So it is with God. God is a person and you can benefit by talking, by conversing, by listening, or simply by being.
Not sure which method to start with? Here are some choices:
- Go to your church when its quiet and kneel before the Blessed Sacrament. Ask God for help. As St. Josemaria Escriva said it, "as soon as you have said, 'Lord, I don't know how to pray!' you can be sure you've already begun. " (90)
- Listen to other faithful Catholics discussing prayer. The first several podcasts of Into the Deep are a great discussion on methods of praying.
- Experience Lectio Divina. There are several good introductions, including one by Fr. Luke Dysinger and another from the Jesuit offices in Toronto.
Sermon in a Sentence: A Treasury of Quotations on the Spiritual Life, Vol. 4 : St. Teresa of Avila
John McClernon (ed.)