This morning in my daily readings from the church fathers there was a passage from Origen’s Treatise on Prayer. He spoke of the importance of preparing to pray, and the difference it can make in the life of the one who prays in the this way.
No one can think of devoting time to prayer without being purified, no more than one will imagine that those who pray can obtain the pardon of their sins unless they have first wholeheartedly forgiven the brothers and sisters who ask for their pardon.Origen
Preparing to pray, then, he later says, involves forgiving anyone who has offended me, and banishing my “irritation at others.” This is why I see a lot of wisdom in placing the confession and absolution at the beginning of morning and evening prayer. I find the sins I’m most aware of within myself are the seemingly “small” issues of uncharitable thoughts and an irritable attitude toward others.
When we come to prayer with this kind of disposition, “banishing whatever troubles the soul,” we find ourselves in an “attitude of prayer which places [us] in God’s presence and engages [us] to pray to him as someone who is present and looking at them.”
We steadily learn, in other words, to live in the awareness of God’s presence and his deep knowledge of us. God becomes the preoccupation of our minds, to our great benefit: we “avoid many sins” in this way, and “many good deeds are carried out.” Holiness of life flows naturally from this kind of prayer.
Prayer, then, is a much deeper practice than just saying the right words at the right time. It is a practice of personal connection, a fully awake engaging of the heart and soul with God in receiving God’s love and letting it flow back to God. We enter into this kind of prayer only through the work of purification and preparation for prayer.
I realize that it is very easy for me to just stumble into prayer, and while I’m grateful that the words of the liturgy carry me along when I’m not “feeling it,” I also realize that taking a few seconds to prepare for prayer will likely be very fruitful for me. This means allowing myself to become aware of irritable thoughts and feelings, and letting go of them through through confession, absolution, and forgiveness.