A few questions, off the top:
Are you ready for an Advent adventure?
Does the idea of “praying your way to Christmas” sound intriguing?
Then what would you say to writing some of your own Advent prayers this year to help you prepare for the great solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord?
Most likely you’ve answered a resounding “Yes!” to the first two questions and an emphatic “No!” to the third.
Fair enough. But you do compose your own prayers sometimes, right? Words, thoughts and ideas that come straight from your heart?
Unless you’re keeping a journal, you probably don’t write them down. But after receiving Communion, don’t you and the good Lord have a little chitchat? Doesn’t that happen when you’re telling him of your concerns about family, work, health, finances and so on? And sometimes don’t you almost bubble over saying thanks to him when it’s so obvious he’s given you — or a loved one — a tremendous blessing or grace?
None of this is to say formal prayers don’t play a key role in your spirituality — the Mass, the Rosary — memorized prayers you learned as a child or discovered as an adult, all so warm, comforting, familiar and valuable; so priceless.
Still not convinced?
You don’t have to be a writer, theologian, saint or pope to write a personal prayer — to jot down a bit of that private conversation you share with the Father, Son or Holy Spirit, with the Blessed Mother, with a favorite saint.
And you can focus that sharing — those words — on a particular theme or liturgical season.
Advent, for example.
10 personal prayer ideas
You saw that one coming, didn’t you? And speaking of (Christmas) coming — and writing — you might consider a short, simple prayer that centers on one facet of Advent. Here are a few possible “titles,” but no doubt you can come up with your own.
1. An Advent Prayer for My Family
2. A Prayer for Those on My Christmas-Card List
3. A Prayer for Those Who Attend Mass Only on Christmas and Easter
4. A Prayer for Those Who Will Be Homeless This Christmas
5. A Prayer for Those Who Will Spend Christmas Alone
6. A Prayer for Those Who Will Be Celebrating Their Last Christmas on Earth
7. A Prayer for Those Who Can’t Be Home for Christmas
8. A Prayer for Those on My Christmas Shopping List
9. An Advent Prayer for Those Who Are Grieving
10. A Prayer to — and for — My Loved Ones Who Have Died
3 more ways to pray
You could try a bit more involved prayer, using one of these traditional formats:
1. A reflection on a Sunday (or daily) Mass reading. No, you’re probably not a Scripture scholar, but how do those words from the Old and New Testaments strike a chord with you now?
2. Litany for loved ones. As you probably know, a litany is a list of supplications, of asking. It can also be prayers of gratitude. “For ...” — fill in the blank: your spouse, your parents, your children and grandchildren, your siblings and friends. What, in particular, do you want for him or her this Christmas? Or for what Christmas memory of that person are you thankful?
3. An Advent novena. Again, as you probably know, a novena is a prayer said on nine successive days (or nine prayers all in one day or ... there are many options). Some parts are repeated daily, but each day also can have a unique emphasis. Read a few novenas (pray a few novenas!) and you’ll see what the general format is.
5 inspiration starters
Want a bit more encouragement? (You can do this!) Maybe a few proposed opening lines will do it:
1. “Open my heart this Christmas, dear Lord.”
2. “Saints preserve us; I’m so stressed getting ready for Christmas.”
3. “God, help me with my in-laws!”
4. “Help me to return to the Lord and do his will.”
5. “Gaudete! I rejoice because ....”
10 prayer-writing suggestions
So maybe you like the idea of writing. Well, maybe not “like,” but aren’t totally opposed to it. You’re not completely against it, but — nitty-gritty here — how do you actually do that? Forgive yet another list (isn’t part of Christmas making lists and checking them twice?), but here are some suggestions on writing a prayer:
1. Keep in mind that, except for the Lord’s Prayer — which Jesus gave us but didn’t copyright so it’s freely used all over the place — every prayer was written by someone who’s only human. And, hey, you’re only human!
2. You don’t need to use “prayer words.” Vouchsafe, deign, beseech, hast, art, willest, thee, thy, thou — yeah, those. You can use them if you want, but you can also just write the way you speak. Your words. Your grammar. Your spelling. (What? You were hoping to impress God with how educated and elegant your prayers sound?)
3. You do need to think and pray about this. Yes, there could be a burst of divine inspiration, but, more likely, the Holy Spirit will offer you gentle encouragement and insight.
4. You don’t have to finish a prayer. You cannot “flunk” Advent.
5. Other people don’t have to see your prayer unless you want them to. (No one even has to know you’re writing it.)
6. Writing, in general, is easier if you choose the time and place that work best for you. And it helps to keep on a consistent schedule.
7. No, your prayer doesn’t have to be like a poem with rhyming and stanzas and such, but, yes, it’s just fine if that’s how you want to write it. Sure, you can write lyrics to the tune of one of your favorite hymns. Or Christmas carols.
8. It’s not cheating or just adding “fluff” to use some Scripture passages as part of your prayer. (Just take a look at the Hail Mary, right?)
9. Short is good. Long is just fine. And midsize works, too. (If you write several prayers during Advent you may end up with a variety of lengths and styles.)
10. Don’t freak out if you can’t come up with just the right word or phrase. You know what you want to say, but ....
It’s OK. God knows what you want to say, and, it seems safe to assume, he doesn’t mind filling in the blanks here and there.
Bill Dodds writes from Washington.
|A Few (Already Written) Advent Prayers
From “Blessing of an Advent Wreath”
Lord our God,
we praise you for your Son, Jesus Christ:
he is Emmanuel, the hope of the peoples,
he is the wisdom that teaches and guides us,
he is the Savior of every nation.
let your blessing come upon us
as we light the candles of this wreath.
May the wreath and its light
be a sign of Christ’s promise to bring us salvation.
May he come quickly and not delay.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
— “Catholic Household Blessing and Prayers,” U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
An Advent Prayer
Lord Jesus, Master of both the light and the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas. We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day. We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us. We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom. We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence. We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light. To you we say, “Come, Lord Jesus!”
— Henri J. M. Nouwen
St. Jude Prayer for Advent
Lord Jesus, your power is infinite, your glory, everlasting. Quietly you come, as a tiny baby. Ready my heart for the miracle of your birth. Bring light to this dark world, waiting silently for your warmth in the coldness of the night. Waiting is itself your gift, animating my heart with anticipation.
Bless me with needed patience and faithful discipline to prayerfully prepare to welcome and greet you. St. Jude, eternal hope, let your holiness flow into me.
May Christmas joy and burning love take root in me and grow until they bloom on Christmas Day, to carry joy to the world and inspire hope to renew the face of the earth. Amen.