As someone who is involved in a lot of youth ministry, it often falls on me to lead group prayer at the beginning or the end of a meeting. A lot of the time, another leader will take on the responsibility of leading prayer as well. Yes yes, for events, we always strive to have planned prayer services, but at meetings sometimes there isn't time. And so it falls on someone to just go for it and pray 'on the cuff.' And here's the thing about prayer - especially public prayer - we so badly want it to sound good or pretty. We desperately don't want it to be repetitive, but grandiose and intricate. We want it to somehow be worthy of elevation as a part of the mystical body of Christ, joining the swirling clouds of incense as it makes its way up from the altar to the ears of God. We're more worried about what other people are thinking when they hear our words, than the actual words we say, and whether we mean them. But it isn't necessary for prayer to be poetry. Let's check in with my good friend The Little Flower, and see what she has to say:
"Prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look towards heaven. It is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy." -St. Therese of Lisieux
Prayer is supposed to come from the heart; it should be the natural response we have to wanting to be in a right relationship with God. If the Father is exactly that, a father, then all of us feeble human creatures here on earth are simply His children. And more so than the gap in an earthly relationship between father and child, the gap between us and The Father is gigantic. We are finite, he is infinite. We are human creatures, and He just Is. Nothing we do can bridge this gap between creature and Creator, and yet God calls us to cry out to Him in praise, thanksgiving, petition. We are simple creatures, and so we should cry out to God in that same way - simply. Listen to How Jesus prays to the Father:
"I pray not only for these, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me...the world does not know you, but I know you, and they know that you sent me. I made known to them your name and I will make it known, that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them" (John 17:20-26).
Okay, Jesus, we get it. You and the Father are one. And You want all of us to be one with You and the Father too. But what is the point of all of this? If I wrote a paragraph like this in an English essay, my professor would tell me to trim it down because it's too repetitive. And yet, this is how Jesus prays to His Father all throughout the scriptures. It's repetitive because Jesus is simply praying what is in His Heart. He does away with introductions and fancy words. He just speaks what He longs for. And the thing that is in the deepest places of our hearts is, just like Christ's, always the same. We long for God.
That's one of the beautiful things about Catholic devotions like the Rosary, which is one of my - if not my favourite - prayer. It's repetitive. It's simple. In repeating the Hail Mary more than 50 times, I really get to the heart of the matter - my longing for God, and I am able to start meditating on my relationship with Him, and not which words I am using to express that relationship. Public prayer has the horrible addition of people listening to what you are praying, but even in private prayer, I find myself thinking, "what am I saying? This sounds terrible..." even though I'm saying what I am yearning for. God doesn't really care if your prayers aren't shakespeare. He just cares that you pray. The next time you decide to "look towards heaven," don't bother with sounding nice. Who cares if it's repetitive? Who cares if you are using small words? Leave the pride behind, and just talk to God.
Look at the Eucharist, the source and summit of our faith. At a glance, it is just a piece of flat bread. But in reality, it is Christ, body, blood, soul, and divinity. So humble, so meek, so willing to allow us to freely choose to scoff, or to kneel down and adore. The truth about the Eucharist is difficult to understand (and we'll never fully understand it here on earth). But like prayer, it begs for everyone to strip away everything unnecessary and do nothing except rest in God's hands. It isn't easy, but it is simple.