Excerpts from the book Prayer & Multiple Intelligences - Who I Am Is How I Pray, by Bernadette T. Stankard. Now available at CatholicNews Bookshop
All real prayer must begin in wonder.- Tad Dunne, artist and writer
Growing up, I was taught that whenever a siren sounded, I should stop right away and say a prayer for the person, the family, and the police or firefighters involved in the emergency. This action quickly became second nature. I would wonder about the person and family I was praying for, what they might be going through. One time, when I heard the sirens while I was at school, I prayed, not realizing that I was praying for my father and my own family that day.
My father had had a stroke but would soon recover, learning once again to walk and talk. Without even knowing who we were, the people who had prayed the same siren prayer helped my family that day. The telephone rings. Immediately we wonder who is calling. If we have call-waiting, the mystery is taken away and we must only make the decision to answer or not to answer. How many times have we picked up that phone to hear the voice of someone in need or the proclamation of a glorious achievement?
Simple actions like these are something that can start each of us on the path of using multiple intelligences in prayer. Let the telephone and the siren not only remind you of God but of the person who is calling or in need. Being aware of these reminders is sometimes referred to as mindfulness or attentiveness, but in all their simplicity they are a call to prayer.
As we have seen, prayer is a relationship that encompasses our entire person, our entire life. It is a call to attend to all the aspects that will draw us into that relationship. Hearing the siren, listening to the ring of the phone, spreading peanut butter- all of these are visual-spatial reminders of that call. Another simple call to prayer is the alarm clock. As the alarm sounds and you are drawn to consciousness, say, "This is the day the Lord has made. Let me be glad and rejoice."
The first time I tried this, I'm afraid God received my words in a not-too-pleasant tone of voice- one only slightly better than that of an angry cheetah who lost her prey. As the days went by, my tone softened. Then one day I realized the depth of what I was saying: this is the day the Lord has made, and I have been graciously given another day to enjoy, relish, and grow in. The encounter which started out as a surly acknowledgement of the day I always took for granted turned into a time of gratitude for having the day in the first place, and for the chance to use it for the glory of my Creator.
Taking Baby Steps
There are hundreds of ways to take baby steps toward giving your whole self in prayer. And these steps are as many and varied as our world. Be creative in your approach to your friendship with God. Think of day-to-day situations in which you can use various techniques as springboards to the divine.
Here are a few examples:
• Everyone has counted to ten to avoid an angry confrontation or a loss of temper. Next time try counting, "One for God, two for God ... " and see the difference it makes.
• Use your computer screensaver to remind yourself of God during work. Perhaps it could display "Be glad and rejoice," or "Each person is a God-holder."
• If you don't currently pray before meals, start doing so.
• As you fill up your gas tank, take time to visualize yourself being filled up with God.
These are just a few of the hundreds of ways throughout the day you can take steps toward God.
Another step toward prayer using multiple intelligences is taking time each morning to create three pages in a stream of consciousness. This is where you write or draw or otherwise express yourself without consciously thinking about it, just simply putting down what comes into your mind at the moment. Julia Cameron, author of The Artist's Way, suggests this technique for those who wish to write or draw or be more creative. I started doing this exercise hoping to build my creativity and found instead that it became an encounter with God. Early on I wrote what I considered stupid stuff:
The light pull is dangling and swinging and reminding me of jungle vines. It is hot and muggy out and I haven't even stepped out the door. All the plants seem droopy from the continuous heat we've had. I have to remember to take the books back to the library. Ah, the dog just walked into the living room. I can still hear Ed snoring. I'm not ready to get into everything. I wish I could have slept longer. The stream of consciousness was all the "stuff" I needed to get done or that I noticed only as a by product of how it affected me. As I persisted in writing these morning pages, something changed: God stepped in.
I'm feeling apprehensive about this trip to Manhattan. Will I be able to drive the van? Will I be accepted by the kids and not get witchy? God, I'm so wrapped up in fear. It is almost as if I cannot do anything on my own. I need help in chasing this fear away. I can help you, Bernadette. You have to trust in me. But I'm helpless, God. You're not concentrating on the present moment. Not concentrating on the here and now. You really need to remember this. Just trust, Bernie.
Throughout my entries, the pronouns changed according to who was talking. My pages became an exchange between God and me. I found that as I wrote my concerns God answered them, giving me direction and support, saying just the right thing and often something I didn't wan t to hear. The act of writing down my thoughts in a stream of consciousness caused me to open my mind to hearing God amid all the jumble of "stuff." Cod was looking beyond my thoughts and waiting, anxious to be in a relationship with me.
Journaling has long been encouraged as a way of readying yourself for prayer. Unlike writing in a stream of consciousness, journaling is often more directed, addressing a particular area in your life or a time in your life and dealing with quest ions such as, "What has touched me in this experience?" or "Why did I respond that way?" With stream of consciousness writing, you cannot be as structured. You have to allow whatever is in your mind at the time to freely come out, and from those thoughts, God can speak.
Lots of times God speaks in my stream-of-consciousness pages and says things I don't want to hear or that seem to have no significance. It is only as I go about my day that I am able to see what God was trying to point out to me. The act of working from your stream of consciousness frees up your mind to surface thoughts, ideas, and challenges you should be addressing. Once we allow God room to come in, we can find those surprises I referred to earlier.
One last step you might consider is a form of guided meditation, which is a very simple way to open your heart to discover what's there. It also allows God to speak without our interference. To begin, close your eyes and calm yourself. Become aware of God. When you are ready, tell God what's happening in your life, much as you would a good friend. Tell God everything, even your secrets because God is your best friend. As you move along, talk with God about anyone who is uppermost in your mind, someone you would like to place before God. Take time together with God to love the people you have remembered. Love together the different things that make up these people.
Next, don't say anything. Just become quiet and listen, Feel God loving you. Dwell on this and when you are ready, express to God how this makes you feel.
This prayer time will allow you to enter the day, or move on to another activity, not only refreshed but ever more aware of God right with you.