I FIGHT WITH GOD ABOUT ONCE A MONTH
Every morning I take a few moments for prayer (with a strong cup of coffee in hand), and every so often this prayer becomes a chat with the Almighty as to why He didn't call me to be a Carmelite Monk. I absolutely love the idea of a life completely focused on silence, study, solitude, making jam, and coffee brewing. If you know my introverted self, it just makes sense.
When I think about it a little longer I realize that I might last four days in the monastery before pulling my hair out. However, that deep longing for silence and solitude doesn't cease. It is in that place wherein I feel most alive and in tune with my Creator, Friend, and Healer.
What's interesting, though, is that some of the most restful moments of my spiritual life have come about from those noisy, distracting, (sometimes) cheesy, simplistic tunes called "Praise & Worship". And for a person who loves solitude and silence, this form of prayer should really be the last place that I find Christ, right?
Curiously enough, Praise & Worship has had a huge impact on my faith formation, both ministerially and spiritually. On paper, I should probably hate it and not have anything to do with it. It isn't comfortable for me. It's not my preferred way of praying, nor does it come easily to me. However, after years of growth in my spiritual life I have been continually drawn back to its simple beauty. Here’s why…
IT TEACHES PEOPLE HOW TO PRAY
Praise & Worship (in the Catholic world) is typically an engine of evangelization efforts, especially for youth. Why? It teaches people who have little to no formation in personal prayer how to pray. This is a big deal! As Catholics, we often grow up hearing the why of prayer, but rarely the how of prayer. The lyrical language used in most Praise & Worship songs isn't riddled with complex theological concepts...and frankly, it's not supposed to be. They are simple, personal prayers of the heart. When sung, expressed, and prayed out loud, it helps a stranger to Christ enter into a personal friendship with Him. All of a sudden one realizes, "I'm actually praying and talking to Christ!" From their singing, people learn how to begin a conversation with God, which they may have never had before. All of a sudden silent, personal prayer becomes possible. Praise & Worship certainly can't be the only form of prayer in one's life, however it can be a great kick-start to having a personal prayer life.
IT'S A RAW EXPRESSION OF THE HEART
These songs are simple, but are oftentimes a deep expression of the heart. The best Praise & Worship songs are real, personal, and authentic. They help us pray to Christ so that we might trust, love, forgive, and have the courage to follow Him. I have experienced numerous instances of praying with Praise & Worship where a word or phrase has spoken directly to my heart's need and then gave me the opportunity to begin expressing that need to Christ through a simple and repetitive song. I think this is important to note because I'll hear that people have "graduated" from Praise & Worship: it's a remnant from their high school/college days of immaturity and now that they are more mature there isn't a need for this "simple guitar music". If this is you, I'm excited that you've progressed in prayer! However I still think Praise & Worship could have a place in your spiritual life. It helps us express our hearts in prayer; so if your heart has matured, it can grow to a new depth of praise even though it may be the same simple song you sang years ago.
PRAISE LEADS TO CONTEMPLATION
This is a fundamental aspect of an interior prayer life. If you're not accustomed to praise in your personal prayer, I would bet money you're not accustomed to contemplation. Praise focuses our prayer completely on Him, simply because HE IS (CCC 2639), which tunes out all other distractions. Our hearts then become primed for what St. Teresa of Avila says is a “close sharing between friends” - contemplation. Our praise leads to this silence where we experience a covenantal relationship established by God within our heart (CCC 2713) as our Savior gazes upon us. Look to the saints - St. Francis of Assisi didn't pull out a guitar and sing "Lord, I Need You", but he did give praise to God every day, while also being mystic that plumbed the depths of contemplation. He's certainly not the only saint with this track record! Praise & Worship provides a modern Christian with an easy facilitation of praise, which when led well, will lead one into a silent prayer of the heart.
No matter where you are in your spiritual journey, I would encourage you to give Praise & Worship a sincere try. Even if it's difficult. Even if it's not your thing. I have seen countless people grow in their prayer life because this form of praise helps them to focus on the One who has captured their heart.
Lord, teach us how to pray.
I'll leave you with a personal favorite...
If you're local to Milwaukee, I'd like to invite you to Cor Jesu or our Arise Parish Missions. They provide a great experience of Praise & Worship, along with encountering Christ in the sacraments.