The following is a transcript of a Raised Catholic podcast episode. To listen to the episode, click here.
Today is episode 144: Pray Without Ceasing
Hi friends. This week as we prayerfully enter into what now sure feels like fall, shifting schedules, and the first Vatican meeting of the Synod on Synodality – this is what long-time Vatican watchers are saying could be the most significant church event since Vatican II – well anyway, from all of this, I’m finding myself thinking about the call from Paul in the first letter to the Thessalonians to ‘pray without ceasing’. For any person of faith, prayer is central to our relationship with God and each other, and even our relationship to ourselves, and any good action we do can come as a result of our prayer. That being said, the command to ‘pray without ceasing’ can feel like a particularly high bar and really, just about impossible given all of the other things that we humans need to accomplish in a day. So, what does it actually mean to pray without ceasing? Is it something we can actually do, something we would want to do, and what would praying without ceasing really look like in the context of our everyday lives?
Today I’ll share with you some of the rhythms of prayer that I use during the course of an average day. Now, some of these things might not seem like prayer to you at first, but when we enlarge our view of what prayer actually is – a communion and communication with God in various forms – we might find ourselves getting closer to what Paul was actually telling those Thessalonians to do all those centuries ago when he said, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. “ And as I talk about my prayer routines, I hope that you will consider the rhythms in your day that you may not have considered as prayer before, but which actually are.
Okay, so for me, a typical day starts when my alarm goes off. I roll out of bed and directly onto my knees for approximately 1.5 seconds, just long enough to bless myself with the sign of the cross and give the day over to God. This is the shortest and sloppiest prayer ritual for me, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t ‘count’. If you were born and raised Catholic, you might find yourself looking for the standard that makes a prayer a prayer, the thing that makes it actually matter or ‘count’ according to some metric you once heard in a homily or which has been ingrained in you from the time you were small, but for now, let’s leave those metrics aside as we widen our view just a bit.
So, as I put together my breakfast, I’ll pull out my Jesus Calling devotional. This little book contains one short reflection and a few short supporting scriptures each day. It does not take me very long to read through it and some days that reading really sinks in and hits more than others, but it is always worth doing anyway, because during that time, no matter how short, I am intentionally giving my mind and thoughts over to God and asking Him to influence and direct me for the rest of my day. That intentionality matters.
When I leave the house to head out to teach music class, I stop in the driveway, look up and notice the trees and the sky, giving my body a little stretch. Both the noticing and the stretching are prayers, because when I notice the things that God has made – the trees, the sky and my body that is currently able to breathe and stretch, I’m inviting God in and as the day goes on, it makes me grateful and more attuned to notice more of how God is working in that particular day, and that is good. That is a prayer.
Before I enter a classroom, or before I sing at church or even before entering into what I think could be a stressful gathering of people or conversation, I’ll ask God to “please let it be you in me that they hear and see.” I do this to remind myself that it is the Holy Spirit living in me that can and will do any good thing, connect with students and friends, say the right encouraging or helpful thing to someone else, or even sing through me, and I want to give God permission to do that, always. Much better that it be God leading than me, for sure. But my work, whether it be teaching or singing or writing or making this podcast for you – that is also prayer because of the intention behind it. I am doing all of those things in service to God and to fulfill what I believe is His plan for me, so the work itself is a prayer.
Throughout the day, I’ll notice more things and thank God for them. I’ll ask God’s intercession for my dear ones or for the people and places I know which really need help, like that Synod. I pray those intercessory prayers in the morning, at lunch and before bed. I’ll ask our friends who art in Heaven to intercede in particular circumstances – these days I’m talking a lot to St. Francis, St. Clare, St. Augustine, St. Monica, Thomas Merton, my friend Fr. Joe, and of course, my Mom.
When I go out for a run or a walk, I’ll ask the Holy Spirit to choose the random ‘liked songs’ on my spotify playlist that come up, and it’s amazing the inspiration, direction, and encouragement He gives me when I enter into contemplation in this way. God speaks to me in the words and the melodies of songs in ways that guide my thoughts and in this way, He brings me the guidance, peace, or hope that He knows I need. I’ll stop at the Mary statue in my neighborhood after a run or a walk and ‘give’ my kids and lots of other people over to her for her motherly care. In stressful moments, I’ll try a quiet breath prayer in which I center my spirit and my unregulated nervous system, just breathing in and out with a focus on remembering who and Whose I am. I engage in conversation with God during the savasana portion of my yoga class, where He will often show me a picture that gives clarity and direction I really need. I also hear God speaking in many of the podcasts I listen to or the books I read, or the people I talk to. All of those encounters are communication and communion with God, and so all of that is prayer.
And each night, I blow a kiss to a picture of my Mom and ask God to fill her with light and love as much as she can hold and more in Jesus’ name. I’ll intercede once again for my kids, my friends and family, and for those who are going through hard things – people I know but also in the church and the world, just lifting it all up to God. Sometimes I’ll pray something formal like a rosary. Often if I do that, it’s with a recording with my friend Fr. Frank McFarland, the friend I can’t wait to meet in Heaven. Sometimes I walk around the house and bless the people who populate all of the photos I see and I’ll contemplate the spiritual art on the walls that bring me a better understanding of just who God really is in His true nature as kind, giving, compassionate and generous. I’ll rewind the day and give thanks for the people, experiences, and interactions I had that day. And when the house is quiet just before I head to bed, I will sometimes sing God a little song of praise, just me and Him.
Well friends, these are simple things. They are beats in a rhythm of a relationship between me and God and this relationship is not perfect, but it is one in which we are continually talking and listening to one another through the course of the day, as friends. Friendship with God means communication and that communication is prayer.
Author Anne Lamott says that all prayers can be broken down into three words,
Help, Thanks, Wow.
Many of us are very familiar with asking God for help for us or our dear ones. Hopefully we have a rhythm of gratitude as we thank God for what He has done, but it is the wonder of the ‘WOW’ that makes our everyday life into an adventure that we live when we are walking with God. Prayer is the vehicle that leads to encounter and encounter leads to an integrated relationship with God who loves us much more than we can imagine.
If our prayer is small, imperfect, short, distracted or messy – oh friend, we are certainly not alone, and also none of that matters. All prayer ‘counts’ because of the intention behind why we are doing it. We want to draw close to God who is already close to us. We want to hear God and experience God, to know, love and serve God and His people. So, whatever prayer we use, whatever form it is, however long, God knows our heart and our intention. When we take one small step toward Him, He’ll always take many more toward us because that’s just who He is, the prodigal father who runs toward His children. And when we expand our lens of what prayer actually is, we may find that praying without ceasing is just a little more possible than we may have thought, because prayer is as simple as walking and talking together through the day, like good friends do. And, really, we couldn’t ask for a better companion.
Thanks so much for being with me today, friend. If you need me, you can find me on Instagram @kerrycampbellwrites, at Substack at kerrycampbellwrites.substack.com, or on my website at kerrycampbell.org. Thanks so much for rating, reviewing, subscribing and most importantly, sharing this podcast with a friend. That really makes a difference in growing our community, so thanks. If you’d like to support this podcast financially, there are a couple of ways for you to do that in the show notes, along with some resources related to today’s episode, so do check all of that out, but before we go, let’s pray together.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen.
God, may we remember that you are always with us, walking with us in love and wanting our good. God, please be present in the Synod. Help everyone gathered there to listen to the call of the Holy Spirit and to follow where you are leading our Church. And friends, may the blessings of almighty God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, descend upon you and remain with you forever. In the name of Jesus and wrapped in the mantle of our Mother Mary, we pray, amen.
Thanks for listening today, friend. In the show notes, you’ll find lots of resources that will help you to connect with what is going on in the Synod in real time, so please check that out and let’s be prayerful together. I’ll see you next time.
This week, as we enter into the first Vatican meeting on the Synod on Synodality, a meeting long-time Vatican watchers are saying could be the most significant church event since Vatican II, I am finding myself thinking about Paul’s call to ‘pray without ceasing’. In our busy lives, what does praying without ceasing actually look like, is it something we would even want to do, and what is the good fruit that comes from prayer for us and for our Church?
If you’d like to connect with me, find me on Instagram, at my website, or on Substack. If you’d like to help support this podcast financially, there’s a way to do just that on my page at buymeacoffee.com! Thanks for sharing, subscribing, rating, and reviewing, as this helps our community to grow.
Thanks as always to my friend, Peter Vaughan-Vail, for providing the beautiful harp music you hear in this and every episode.
Here are some resources I hope will help you to engage with this week’s topic in a deeper way for yourself:
2. Overview of the Synod from America Media
3. Podcast: Inside the Vatican
4. Podcast: Pope Francis Generation
5. Prayer to the Holy Spirit: Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created and you shall renew the face of the Earth. Oh God who, by the light of the Holy Spirit did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolation through Christ our Lord, amen.
6. Song: Down to the River to Pray, by Alison Krauss
7. Song: Garden, by Matt Maher
8. Episodes: The Rosary with Fr. Frank McFarland on Boston Catholic Television
9. Book: Personal Prayer – A Guide for Receiving the Father’s Love, by Fr. Thomas Acklin and Fr. Boniface Hicks
10. My little daily devotional book: Jesus Calling, by Sarah Young
11. Book: Help Thanks Wow, by Anne Lamott