Prayer, at its foundation, is communication with God. There are many ways to pray, including having a casual conversation with God to share what’s on your mind, repetitive prayer to help facilitate meditation, scriptural prayer, and liturgical prayer (where we worship God in community). Today, I will talk about a type of prayer called relational prayer. The method follows the acronym ARRR and is sometimes affectionately called “pirate prayer.”
Before we begin with the acronym, we must start with the presupposition that God, despite being invisible, is, in fact, a real person. Not only is He a person, but He is a person who deeply loves you and desires a relationship with you. The place where you meet Him and foster that relationship with Him is in your heart. Your heart is your interior, innermost self. For this reason, it is essential to communicate with Him from the depths of your heart in the most honest and vulnerable ways. Hold nothing back. He is also continually pursuing you at every moment, regardless of if you are aware of it. Before beginning this or any other method of prayer, take some time to notice that He is already there waiting for you. Rather than jumping right into a conversation, pause for a few minutes to feel His presence and intense love for you. Once you have grounded yourself in His presence and love, you will be more prepared to converse with Him.
Our Blessed Mother is our model when it comes to relational prayer. Anything in scripture about Mary was either relayed to the authors directly by her or by someone close to her because there is no other way for anyone to know certain things unless they came from her. So, we can trust her activity in the coming examples to be authentic and worth noting.
The first step in relational prayer is acknowledging our thoughts, feelings, and desires. The purpose of any relationship is to share some part of our inner selves with the other person, which requires a level of self-awareness. Some of these relationships, such as acquaintances or co-workers, are not as deep as others, like lifelong friendships or spouses. Whatever the depth of the relationship, we share a part of ourselves with the other person. Likewise, a relationship can only grow or deepen if we share more of ourselves. We’re inclined to hide or ignore the parts of our hearts that are broken or ugly, like a messy closet whose door you never open. However, suppose we want an authentically deep relationship with God. In that case, we must open the door and acknowledge what’s inside, no matter how messy it is, remembering that God still loves us in that mess.
If the place where one meets Jesus is in the heart, then, given Mary’s closeness to God, she has always remained in her heart, undeterred by the external. Her interior life is well maintained, and she has the most excellent self-awareness: “But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:19). She keeps all things in her heart, not only acknowledging them but also pondering on them and reflecting on them. Mary’s heart has no closed doors, so she is open to her relationship with God.
After acknowledging your thoughts, feelings, and desires, the next step is to relate them to God. It is one thing to acknowledge them for yourself, but it is an entirely different thing to reveal them to another person. We like to protect and isolate certain parts of ourselves, particularly when they make us vulnerable or uncomfortable. Perhaps, for any number of reasons, you conceal things in your heart from even your spouse. Do not hold anything back from God. Trust Him and His love for you and reveal to Him what is in the deepest parts of your heart. This is how your relationship with Him will deepen and become more authentic.
When Gabriel appeared to Mary and greeted her, “…she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be” (Lk 1:29). Always being in communion with God in the innermost part of her heart, this moment would have undoubtedly involved communication with Him. The emotions she felt and immediately identified are described in scripture succinctly as troubled. Mary would have expressed any fear, anxiety, and worry to God, allowing God, through His messenger, to tell her she did not need to be afraid. She also expresses her confusion when she says, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” (Lk 1:34), opening the door for further dialog and deeper understanding. Mary shows us that even when we experience unpleasant thoughts and feelings, communicating them to God helps us work through them with His help.
The third step in the process requires our silence so that we can hear what God has to say to us and receive it. As with any relationship, eventually, the time comes when you need to stop talking, be quiet, and listen to what the other person has to say. God will speak to you in the quiet of your heart. This part of relational prayer is the most challenging because God does not talk to us like we speak to one another. He is real but invisible and, therefore, uses more subtle forms of communication. It is also difficult for us to know whether what we hear is His voice or some other outside influence that our humanity can muddle. Some ways you can discern whether it is God you are hearing is to ask yourself if what is being said is leading you closer to Him, helping you to grow in virtue, and lining up with the objective truths taught by the Church. If any of these things are not true, you are not hearing the voice of God but something else. It is important to note that the more you practice relational prayer, the easier it is to hear God and identify when you hear other influences.
Mary is the ultimate example of receptivity to God’s Word by literally receiving it in her womb as the Incarnation. She was so open to receiving Him that His flesh dwelled within her flesh. Our goal is to make our hearts so receptive to His Word that He dwells within our hearts at all times, and we carry Him with us wherever we go.
The final step in relational prayer is to respond to what God is telling you. A relationship requires cooperation with what the other person is telling us so we can freely respond to it. Think of a human relationship where a friend or spouse communicates a need, a fear, or another feeling. Once it is communicated, you wouldn’t simply turn and walk away in silence. You would respond in some way, either in words or in action. Sometimes, God wants you to do something concrete, but sometimes, it might be as simple as responding to His love for you by increasing your gift of self back to Him and being more vulnerable. Sometimes, your first response may be to ask more questions, like Mary, giving Him a chance to give you more understanding.
Mary’s response to God’s request was, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). Ultimately, that is the perfect response that any of us can give to God whenever He speaks to us. When we recognize that anything he asks us to do is for our benefit and to draw us into a deeper relationship with Him, even when it is something painful, like carrying a particular cross, we can more easily respond with, “Let it be done to me according to your will.”
This week, practice the ARRR method of relational prayer to deepen an authentic relationship with God. This is best done in quiet and for an extended period of time, perhaps an hour. The adoration chapel is ideal for this, but it can also be done in nature or in a prayer space in your home. If you want to read more about this topic, I recommend Personal Prayer: A Guide for Receiving the Father’s Love, by Fr. Acklin and Fr. Hicks.
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