At the mention of "prayer," our thoughts may turn first just in the direction of vocal prayer, – “saying” prayers. But we should never restrict the concept of prayer just to "words." Of course, it is no affront to the notion of prayer to admit that we express our faith vocally in prayer formulas such as the rosary, litanies, and the Liturgy of Eucharist. But when we reflect on the role of prayer in the Season of Lent, we should probably concentrate on broadening and deepening its meaning to include the aspect of spiritual renewal which Lent is meant to play in our lives. So here, let us think more along the lines of “prayerfulness” – how to use the time of Lent to become a more prayer-filled person.
St. John Chrysostom defines prayer as “longing for God." In his view, “Prayer is love too deep for words.” Then he adds: “I speak of prayer, not words.” And the psalmist prays: “O God, you are my God, for you I long; for you my soul is thirsting” (Ps. 63:2).
Whenever we pray (or even think of the “topic”), we need to remember the relationship we have with the Father because our “longing for God” is founded on God (first) longing for us! Prayer really describes a way of life, a communing in love, a conversation rooted in trust. And that takes real faith! So we need to stay reminded of God’s plea to us in the Church’s liturgy at the very outset of Lent: “Come back to me with all your heart” (Joel 2:12).
Here, I can’t help being reminded of my own “faith level” sometimes when I’ve “led” the Opening Prayer at some event! “God, be with us (as if God is attending some other meeting!!!) . . . Guide our decisions and our actions . . . .” At the end comes our “Amen”. Now that we’ve said our prayer, we slam the door on God and it’s time to get down to business. There’s a modern educator who calls this sort of attitude “functional atheism” – the belief that the ultimate responsibility rests with us. And that is the exact opposite of (real) prayer!
When the Church singles out almsgiving, fasting and prayer as Lenten practices, there is no suggestion that we do them ONLY in Lent, or even that we do them MORE in Lent, but that we get BETTER at “doing” them just because we have THIS Lent in which to deepen their practice. Lent enables us to make these spiritual practices become more and more our way of life. So these 40 days are meant to give our prayer life a lasting “boost”! A time to broaden our outlook on prayer beyond petitions, so that Praise, Adoration and Thanksgiving more often express our relationship with God too.
Perhaps the easiest way to move in this direction is your choice of Prayer Book. The Church’s Prayer Book is the Book of Psalms in the Bible. If the Psalms are a new prayer experience to you, give them a try. Don’t start at the beginning and think you have to “do” them all. Page through the psalms; sample one here and there. Discover that the psalmist was praying out of a heart as human (and sometimes as broken) as yours. Then your prayer is sure to be always “more than words”!