What is prayer, really?
I had a great talk with a friend who is a university student in South Carolina recently, and the topic of our conversation was prayer—specifically, what is it, really, and how do you do it well?
I told him that there are three types of prayer:— 1) Vocal prayer; 2) meditation; and 3) contemplative prayer.
For most folks, the first two are the most important for where they're at in their spiritual lives right now (unless they're particularly advanced in their piety and relationship with the Lord).
WHAT IS PRAYER, REALLY?
Vocal prayer: lifting the heart to God, using words. Perfect vocal prayer is the Our Father, given to us by Jesus himself. The Rosary is a series of vocal prayers. While we are praying, we should not try to think pious thoughts. We should express what is in our hearts and offer it to God as complaint, petition, praise, and thanks.
Meditation: prayerful seeking after God that starts with "fuel"—a sacred text (the Bible or some writing of a saint or spiritual author) or a sacred image (like the crucifix, an icon, or even the Mass itself).
HOW TO PRAY
1) Silence. You need to find a place of solitude (with no one else around) where it is silent.
2) God's Presence. You must acknowledge the presence of God the Holy Spirit—or, if you're in a Catholic Church, direct your gaze to the Tabernacle, and acknowledge the Divine Guest who's Sacred Heart burns with it, body, blood, soul, and divinity, for communion with your soul. Whether you are acknowledging the Presence of the Holy Spirit or of the Son: recognize his Presence and thank him for being present.
3) Ask for help. Ask the Lord, in whose presence you find yourself, for help with prayer! If you have used "fuel" to kick-start your prayer so that you can meditate, tell the Lord that you open your heart to the Spirit and ask Him to speak to you through what you have read or seen.
4) Heart speaks to heart. Talk to the Lord as you would your most intimate, loyal Friend. Refer frequently to your fuel, asking the Lord each time you refer back to it to speak to you through it. As the Spirit moves your heart, express to the Lord the affections, resolutions, and intentions you find yourself experiencing.
5) Be silent. If you ask the Lord a question in your conversation, pause and allow him the silence to respond. Refer frequently back to your fuel for answers. But also be still, and clear your mind so that you can hear his voice, inviting you deeper and deeper into communion.