Can we learn to pray?

“Praying, for me, was above all reciting texts learned by heart, as I had seen it done by my grandparents, very pious people to whom I was close. Today, I would say that to pray is to spend a moment with God”, says Nicolas Join-Dieterle, 36 years old. This dairy farmer in Criquebeuf-en-Caux (Seine-Maritime) has traveled a whole spiritual itinerary through the preparation of his marriage, in 2019; that of the baptism of her two children; then his, which took place at Easter 2022. “I learned to pray as a child. I went to mass out of habit. It was much later, during an initiation retreat to the Spiritual Exercises, that I discovered prayer as a living relationship with God.” confides for his part Cyrille Causse, 34, responsible for the Jesuit vocations service for the French-speaking Western Europe province.

Moment with God, living relationship… These terms evoke a closeness, even an intimacy with God, but it is not necessarily experienced by everyone. How do you achieve authentic prayer? Is there a right way to address God? This question already preoccupied the contemporaries of Christ. The Gospel of Luke tells us that a disciple seeing Jesus pray asks him: “Lord, teach us to pray, as John the Baptist also taught his disciples. » And Christ responds by praying the Our Father (Lk 11:1-4).

This same question still resonates with many Christians today. “There is a real loneliness in learning to pray. As it is a matter of intimacy, it is not natural to speak of its difficulties”, notes Father Matthieu Aine, parish priest of Malo-les-Bains in Dunkirk, who runs, with two lay people, an online prayer school, The principle ? A free five-week course, which can be followed alone or in a group, including daily meditations by email and two videos per week, one in the form of a topo, the other in that of a testimony. The other point of view ? Commit to taking a daily prayer time. “Our approach is experimental: to measure what happens in my life when I devote time to prayer. This is never written in advance. continues the priest, member of Notre-Dame-de-Vie, an institute rooted in the spirituality of Carmel. The formula appeals: a few days after the opening of registrations, at the beginning of October, two hundred participants have already registered.

Today, there are many proposals for learning to pray, step by step and at any age: schools of prayer for young people aged 6 to 18; movements like the Rosary Teams or the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network (1). On the Internet, the offer is plethoric: online training, such as “Lord, teach us to pray” (ten video modules of one and a half hours each and an evening of prayer) carried by the Alpha courses (2). Prayer social networks like Hozana; apps like Prie en chemin, Meditatio or Prions en Eglise, published by the eponymous monthly (3). Podcasts, like the one launched The crossentitled “Believing: The Ways of Prayer”or “Maman Pray” from the magazine Christian family, aimed at mothers. Without forgetting the retransmissions of masses and offices on Radio Notre-Dame, RCF, France Culture or the Day of the Lord…

Prayer practices are just as varied. An Ifop poll, carried out for the Mission Congress (4), reveals that 44% of the baptized questioned take a non-religious meditation time (time of silence, yoga, mindfulness meditation) » ; and an equivalent percentage between in a calm and silent church to reflect on (them)themselves ». 39% of respondents pray alone and address God, the Virgin Mary or (to) saints ». 23% leave a prayer intention in a notebook provided for this purpose in the church ». 22% pray “group or family”. The most common gesture of prayer remains that of lighting a candle (57% of respondents).

If the means are diverse, the aim remains basically the same. “The first work of prayer is to make oneself present to God, says Cyrille Causse. I imagined that God expected something specific from me. I understood, in prayer, that he was simply saying to me: let’s spend time together, build your life with me, and for the rest, we’ll see… God first offers us a relationship, before proposing an alliance. »

Pope Francis’ advice for staying “connected” to God

This attendance has done its work in Nicolas Join-Dieterle, tormented by the state of health of his 3-year-old son, who has experienced seven hospitalizations since his birth. It was during a retreat at the Carmel of Le Havre, organized for the future baptized, that a change occurred. “During an office, I saw a sister who radiated benevolence and serenity. There was not a sound. Everything was calm. I felt my anger evaporate and a radical calm set in. »

His requests to God began to evolve. “When I’m on the edge (the difficulty, the test Editor’s note), I no longer necessarily ask God for it to stop, but rather for him to give me the strength to move forward. »

His prayer took on a collective dimension. “When I’m in church, my prayer has become a way to commune with the people around me. I thank God for all those who accompanied me: my friends, my wife, the priest, the parishioners…”

She never leaves him, even when he is at work. “When I slow down, when I settle down, God comes, says the farmer. Sometimes I am amazed by what surrounds me. I think, in particular, of this moment when I go to look for the cows in the meadow. The sea slowly unfolds before my eyes. And I say to God: what beauty! »

Can we learn to pray?