There is only one basic rule for prayers alone: Make sure you are left alone. Once this is assured, it will be quite easy to find your own expression of whatever it is that fills your heart at that time. But being left alone in prayer is not as easy as one might think. Especially in religious communities, there are sometimes those whose religious observance consists largely in observing others. When and where and how you say prayers, for how long and what posture—every detail is apt to come under scrutiny. It may be a great blessing to be able to discuss all these points with a teacher of prayer who will guide us to find what is most helpful for us personally. Beyond that, we have a right and a duty to insist: Concerning my prayers alone, leave me alone.
Yes, we have a duty in this respect. The most frequent interference does not come from the outside, but from within ourselves; it is not restricted to those living in communities, but all of us have to struggle against it. There is within each of us, I suspect, that little voice that will not leave us alone. It keeps urging us to conformity with some arbitrary model of prayer, or to non-conformity. In either case we get preoccupied with the model that we imitate or reject, instead of facing the challenge to be creative in our prayers alone. You are unique. If your prayer is genuine, it will be the grateful expression of your uniqueness.
New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1984
Brother David Steindl-Rast, O.S.B., has written several books on the contemplative life and has given lectures in the United States, Europe, and Asia. Born in Vienna, he studied art, anthropology, and psychology there, holding degrees from the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts and the University of Vienna. In 1953 he joined the Benedictine monastery of Mount Saviour in Elmira, N.Y. He has been involved in monastic renewal in the United States and in the dialogue of Oriental and Western spirituality.
Published by Jewish Lights