Monday, November 14, 2011

Christian meditation: LLAMA Prayer

So this isn't actually meditating about a llama, but rather an acronym I came up with to help me remember a beautiful prayer-method that God has used to change my life.

As a new Catholic Christian, I was fairly unfamiliar with not only liturgical prayer, but also extemporaneous prayer that went beyond a thank you list and a to-do list. When my pastor asked me to begin trying to pray "with mental prayer," I thought he'd gone mental. Turns out, he was asking me to delve deeper into the spiritual life than the kiddie pool in which I'd been playing.

I struggled at first, since I didn't really know how to do mental prayer. My pastor kept saying, "The Lord will lead you into this kind of prayer: you have to listen." I didn't want to hear that, though. It sounded too much like what I'd heard growing up about quiet times: which always felt like "Bible Roulette" to me.

Finally, after enough complaining and whining from me, my pastor recommended the Lectio Divina technique with an emphasis on the patristic Four Senses of Scripture.

It is hard to overstate what a profound impact this form of prayer has had on my spiritual growth and development. Because of this great grace which our Lord has poured out upon me through this prayer, I am something of an advocate for it. Earlier today, a friend of mine and I were discussing prayer, and I decided to explain to him how it works.

This isn't the first time that I've sat down to explain LLAMA prayer, and it seems that each time I do, I spend a couple of hours writing out my explanation. After sending this explanation tonight, I thought, "Why not post this to Annales and then you can use it again in the future!"

Follows is the fruit of that brainstorm. May the almighty Father, together with his only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ, send forth his Holy Spirit upon all of us, and, through his grace, give us the words to pray, even as he hears our prayers. Amen.

* * *

— (1a) L - Lord

The first L reminds us to "enter into the presence of the Lord." We aren't trying to say that we aren't always in God's presence; we know that we are. Rather, it is an opportunity for us to quiet our mind, our heart, and our lips. One common way of "entering into the Lord's presence" is to:—

—— (a) make the sign of the Cross (forehead, stomach, left shoulder, right shoulder),
—— (b) while saying "In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen." This orients your prayer to the Holy Trinity and reminds you that you were baptized into Christ's death and resurrection.
—— (c) Then, sit quietly for 25 or 30 seconds, breathing deep regular breaths
—— (d) Think about the fact that God sees you, that he hears you, and that he loves you
—— (e) If you have trouble silencing your mind, try praying this brief prayer: "My Lord and my God: I firmly believe that you are here; I believe that you see me and that you hear me; I adore you with profound reverence; I beg pardon for my sins and the grace to make this time of prayer fruitful. May the angels and saints intercede for me and pray with me to you."

— (1b) Scripture

Next, though this doesn't have a letter in the acronym, it's essential to the prayer: pick a portion of Scripture -- usually from one of the four Gospels -- that ranges between 10-15 verses. Though you're welcome to choose the Scripture as you see fit, it's helpful to get a Bible citation from a table of daily Scripture readings, like the Lectionary. Prayerfully, silently, and carefully read the passage you have chosen or been given.

— (2) L - Literal

Now you're going to ask Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, to show you the literal sense of the Scripture passage you just read. You can initially say something like, "Jesus, show me what you were doing in this passage." Then, slowly re-read the passage, talking to Jesus about what he was literally doing 2,000 years ago. If you like, use your imagination to place yourself as an "extra" in the Biblical scene. Imagine what it must have been like to stand there, watching and listening to Jesus. Remember, as you do this, to keep talking to the Lord -- don't let it become a third-person experience.

For example, in the story of the Samaritan Woman at the Well, you might say something like this to the Lord: "Lord, I can imagine what it was like as you walked up to the well. You knew who this woman was, you knew her struggles, yet you loved her. You were tired, hot, sweaty. The people all around the village were cooking, and the mingled smell of cooking fire smoke and delicious lunches mixed with the smell of the animal manure in the street by the well. You saw how the woman kept looking away from you, and yet she was also drawn to you. And then you went up to her and began to speak..."

The point of this part of the prayer is to talk to Jesus about the who, what, when, where, and how: the smells, sights, sounds. You want to firmly place in your mind the real, historical event that took place 2,000 years ago in Palestine with a man who appeared to be a 30-something Jewish rabbi with a carpenter's build. Pray through the Scripture, recognizing what Jesus was doing, and praising him, sharing the moment with him, spending time with him. If he is supposed to be your best Friend, what an opportunity you have to spend these moments with him.

— (3) A - Allegorical

After you've read through the passage and prayed to Jesus about what happened, turn to the allegorical sense of the passage. In other words, ask Jesus what this Scripture reveals to you about him. Don't try to contrive an answer to the question; instead, pray, "Lord, show me what this Scripture says about you. Reveal yourself to me, O Lord, through this passage."

Returning to the Woman at the Well, you might pray, "Lord, you know all things. You knew about the woman's past. You are holy and righteous. You cannot abide sin, and you will call it what it is. But you are also full of mercy. You desire us. You want to spend time with us and show us your love. You are humble and full of kindness, when you allowed yourself to be mistook by this woman who was a sinner. You are one who chases after the lost. You are the criterion of our salvation. The Lord of love. Of life. You are the source of all our hope and dreams..."

This prayer, where you ask Jesus to show himself to you through the way he acts, speaks, and moves in the lives of those around him in the passage, tends to turn into a pouring forth of praise and love and adoration. It is often easy to get lost in a continuous train of prayer and pouring out of your heart's desire for Jesus in this part of the prayer. This is okay! Again, the idea is to spend time with our Lord, and offer him the praise and thanksgiving and worship he is due in justice.

— (4) M - Moral

After you've spoken to the Lord about what took place 2,000 years ago and then reflected and praised him for the ways which he reveals himself to you in the passage in a new way, you can turn to how the Scripture calls you out of yourself and demands a response. Ask Jesus, "Lord, what does this Scripture say about how you want me to live my life? What are you asking me to do, or to not do, in this Scripture, Jesus?"

Again, the story of the Woman at the Well provides ample substance for reflection: "Jesus, the woman was completely changed by her encounter with you. She didn't continue on with her normal day. She didn't go back to her old way of living. She was transformed. She turned away from her shame and her fear, and she went to proclaim you to the people of her village! Jesus, help me to be transformed by encounter with you. Give me grace so that my heart will burn within me the way hers did when she spoke to you. Help me to yearn for the living water which only you can give. Save me from being satisfied by anything but the life-giving water of your grace and mercy! You are the fountain of life for me, Jesus: save me from relying upon self and turning away from you and others..."

This pray can often develop into an examination of conscience in many ways, where you ask the Lord to show you where you can better serve him and more deeply conform your life to the perfection to which he says all Christians are called because "the Father in heaven is holy."

— (5) A - Anagogical

The second A in llama refers to the anagogical sense of Scripture, otherwise called the teleological sense. In this sense of Scripture, we ask Jesus to show us what the passage is saying and revealing to us about our ultimate purpose in life and afterlife; about the Four Last Things: death, judgment, heaven, and hell. We look at the Scripture in light of Jesus' coming again: either in our lifetime at our own death, or in our lifetime at his second coming. Pray to Jesus: "Lord, show me what this Scripture reveals about your coming again in glory, about my death and judgment, about heaven and hell. Help me to put my whole trust and hope in you, and by your grace poured out to me in this Scripture, save me on that dreadful day of wrath."

In our final reflection on the Woman at the Well, we can turn to the four last things: "Lord, you knew this woman's sins. In the same way, you know my sins and those of the whole world. You died for us, atoning for our sins so that we could accept your grace and mercy and live an abundant new life. Jesus, I am fearful of that day when I come before your Great White Throne. Like the Woman at the Well, you will know my sins, too. You will tell me everything I have ever done. Please, O Lord, by your grace and mercy, grant that your Blood, poured forth from your most Sacred Heart, will cleanse me and stand between me and your judgment. Say to me, Jesus, that I am your good and faithful servant. See in me one who has received the living water and has gone to sin no more. Help me, Lord, for without you, I am nothing..."

This portion of the prayer can turn toward an appeal for God's salvation; but, it can also turn toward a victorious celebration of Christ's great triumph over sin, death, and evil.

— (6) Conclusion

After you have meditated on all four senses of Scripture, you may find that you have spent 10, 15, or even 30 minutes in prayer. As you sense your time with Jesus drawing to a close, think again about the reflections the Lord led you through during your meditation on the four senses of Scripture. Ask the Lord to give you some resolution, affection, or inspiration. Often, this can be drawn from the Moral Sense of Scripture. Pick one thing, or at most two things, that you believe you can and should do in order to follow Jesus more closely. Firmly resolve to do those things in faith, through grace, and for the love of God.

Prayer, after all, should not simply be something that is said and then forgotten. It should lead to conversion, repentance, and deeper communion with Christ. The more united we are to Christ, the more closely he will unite us to the Holy Trinity, and the more our prayer life will continue to grow, drawing us out of ourselves and into greater love of God and neighbor (for the love of God).

After you've formed your resolution, end with a prayer like this: "My Lord and my God, I humbly thank you for the good resolutions, affections, and inspirations you have given me in this time of prayer. I pray for your grace to put them into affect in my life. May the angels and saints intercede for me and pray to you that I cooperate with this great grace you have given me. Through Christ our Lord. Amen."