James A. Van Slyke
Prayer mainly associated with the Christian
tradition (also Hindu and Buddhism)
 Petitioning God
▪ Meet basic needs (food or clothing)
▪ Meet Spiritual needs (forgiveness, purity)
 Ascent of the mind or soul towards God
▪ Plotinus
▪ Inward turn towards God
 Conversation with God
Expressive prayer
 Sharing our emotions or desires with God
 Usually involves speech (spoken or inner)
 Praise (Kataphatic tradition)
Contemplative prayer
 Letting Go
 Creating space for God to speak
 Silence (Apophatic tradition)
Christian mystic and nun
The Interior Castle (1577)
Prayer should be a
transformative experience
Changes our perspective on the world
Moves us away from illusion
Liminal state – stuck between two states
Guilt and forgiveness
Provides space for transition
Moves us to a state of trust
and dependence on God
More attuned to the needs
of others
Connects us more deeply to
Continual activity (“pray
without ceasing”)
 Provides a connection to God
throughout the day
 Sensing the relational
presence of God
Prayer was an essential element of spiritual
practices in the early church
 Early Christians were a minority
 Developed unique practices based on several
▪ Jewish Religious Tradition
▪ Circulation of early New Testament writings
Helped form the basic spiritual practices that
define the Christian experience
When Christianity became a
state religion practitioners
moved outside of society
 Felt that state religion weakened
the spiritual practices of the
 Desert Fathers (3rd century)
 Monastic movements
▪ Evagrius of Pontus
▪ Maximus the Confessor
Three Stages to developing a mature prayer
 First Stage – Praktike – lifestyle changes, letting
go of sinful attachments; gain virtues
 Second Stage – Natural Contemplation – Seeing
the work of God in the world rather than
exploiting it; rejecting selfish desires (sin)
 Third Stage – Theoria – Spiritual contemplation –
Seeing God; ineffable experiences; participation in
the divine reality
Training and Exercises that cultivate
Connection between physical, mental, and
spiritual aspects of life
Embodied Spirituality
 Increased concern on the role of the body and
emotion in spiritual practices
 Religion not a “disembodied” experience
 Simplicity of Diet
 Fasting
 Prayer retreats
 Manual labor
Simplify life in order to allow more room for God
Controlling and moderating desire (Not
eliminating it)
 Increases Freedom
 Purifying Desire
Prayer was the most important
spiritual practice
 “the lifting of the heart or mind to
God” (Luther 1519)
 Helped in the discernment of the
Reason alone was insufficient for
knowledge of God
Required spiritual experience
through prayer
Meditatio – prayerful reading of
the scriptures
Oratio – Encountering the Holy
Promises of the Bible strengthen
our faith
Recognize our need for God
Through prayer our hearts seek
after God
Tenatio or Anfechtung (Distress or
 A feeling of need (poverty of the
 Increases our hope and faith in God
Genuine prayer should lead to
right attitudes and actions
The primary subject of prayer
should be God or others
Friedrich Heiler (1932)
 Focused mainly on expressive forms of prayer
 Prayer is mainly a conversation with God that
involves an awareness of dependence and trust
▪ Emotional; an outpouring of the heart
▪ Formulaic or impersonal prayer dissolves this awareness
Two primary categories
 Mystical (Subjective; individual)
 Prophetic (Active; calling upon God)
Ann Ulanov
 Jungian psychologist
 Primary Speech (1982)
 Prayer is a response to God of our
inner emotions and desires
 Begins in infancy
 It is the primary expression of our
true selves
Ann Ulanov
 Dishonesty with ourselves detracts
from honesty in prayer
 Fear or doubt of God’s acceptance
can limit our ability for spiritual
growth in prayer
 Must be willing to express our true
▪ Anger, aggression, sexuality
 Willing to confront distorted images
of God or the self
Among US population (Poloma & Pendleton
1989, 1991)
 Meditative – individual listening; attunement
 Ritualistic – reciting prayers; liturgy
 Petitionary – Asking for things from God
 Colloquial – Conversations with God

Individual Spiritual Practices: Understanding Prayer