Like many Catholics, sometimes I struggle with making prayer more than rote memorization. Even the personal prayers I’ve tried to pray daily at many points in my life can start to have the same sort of cadence as a memorized Our Father or Hail Mary, the same litany of thank yous, the same litany of requests.
I don’t think there’s necessarily anything wrong with this kind of prayer. I think that there’s something comforting, and valuable, in being able to lose yourself in a familiar rhythm — that there is something holy in that, in the ability not to struggle with “what to say.”
Sometimes this kind of prayer makes me feel connected to God. Sometimes it doesn’t. Often, I forget to do it entirely. What I yearn for is to truly pull God into an ongoing conversation with me, to remember God outside of those rote prayers that can help me fall asleep or that make a familiar rhythm against the brushing of my teeth.
So I’ve started praying over library books.
I’ve worked in libraries for almost three years, and during that time, I’ve realized that many people bring their deepest needs to the library. They bring their need for escape, their need for validation, their need to understand their life or their loved ones. Often as I was checking in books, my heart would ache when I saw several books come back with the same theme, most likely all checked out by the same patron. Books about working through divorce. Books about coping with job loss. Books about grieving and letting go.
But it was only recently, as I reshelved several books on Internet addiction, that I thought, “God, I hope these helped someone.”
And that’s when I realized that I should have been bringing this ache to God all along. So I prayed for this stranger, who struggled with addiction. I prayed for their family. Since then, I’ve prayed for other strangers, too — I’ve prayed for a strong marriage when I saw a collection of wedding books waiting on the hold shelf, prayed for a healthy pregnancy when I checked in “The Impatient Woman’s Guide to Getting Pregnant.” I pray for deeper understanding in relationships when I see a lot of relationship self-help books come back in. I don’t know who these people are, but I know what their struggles are. I don’t always know what I should ask for for myself, but I know what to ask for for them. And unlike the impossibility of a letter ever reaching its target when you know nothing about the recipient’s identity, I know that Someone Very Important will make sure these messages arrive in the right place.
It’s revitalized my prayer life, and it’s allowed me to see entry-level circulation work as a ministry. I found a way to connect with God and with other human beings when I wasn’t even looking for one. And for that, I am grateful.
What rituals or revelations have helped you with your prayer life? How do you move from the rote prayers that come so naturally to Catholics, and that certainly have their place, to a more organic, continuous connection? In what ways has prayer surprised you? I’d love to hear your thoughts.