The Revd Wyn Beynon

Five stages of prayer…

This description of how we grow through prayer will be far too simple to satisfy some people.... but it is nonetheless an accurate outline, albeit very generalised, of the way in which our understanding of prayer can grow. And growing our prayer is a vital part of growing our souls....
1 God bless mummy and daddy

We all begin life as infants who have to depend on someone else. Every baby should know nothing but love and care - though sadly it isn't always like that. This unearned love is the basis for all relationships, and all our understanding of God. When we are small we pray that that God will 'bless' and keep those who are closest to us. They are our whole world.

Then, for every one of us, comes the first crisis: something that takes us out of the home... like starting school
2 God please fix all the bad things in the world

At school, or its equivalent, we learn that not everything and everyone is kind and we become aware, as we pass through 6, 7 and 8 years old that the world is broken and needs to be fixed. Our prayer is still that God will 'bless' those closest to us, but we now ask God to fix the world and the bad things in it

This continues until  we meet the next crisis: quite likely this will be adolescence, which is a natural change point for all of us, as our bodies and personalities gear up for adulthood. It is a time of dissonance, where our ideas and the world around us don't fit together. We look for solutions and find them in a group or set of ideas that becomes our "gang". This gang may be friends, a Church, or a club, or an ideology. We learn that we can be part of the solution and so our prayer continues to be for God to bless those closest to, and to fix the world, but now we pray.....
3 God please help me to fix the world and its problems

To be honest many people never grow their prayer beyond the those things - bless my loved ones, change the world, and help me to change it (by being good). For such people that is as far as they take their understanding. It may even be, in practice, that this is the majority of folk. But some will hit another crisis, or probably several, and it may be that they begin to realise that yes, we do want God to change the world, yes we do what God to help us fix it, and that what we really need is for God to fix us..."Lord, change the world and start with me" becomes a prayer we really mean. This is a huge shift in self understanding and it changes the whole approach we take to our faith. We learn to clam down, realise we aren't responsible fr everything, and begin to let go of control so that God can deepen our faith and understanding. We will discover how ego centred we are, and our prayer will be that our ego is put into its right relationship to God. This stage will probably last a very long time.. many years:
4 God please fix me

The may be many, many crises before we discover that there is one more stage left to us on earth... so, when we have asked God to bless, to change the world, to help us fix it and especially to change 'me', we will, if we live long enough, and are attentive enough, we can finally let go of worrying about how good we are, or are not.

All that really matters is God.

We will return, in a whole new way, to what the 'baby us' knew, and the 'toddler us' quickly learned to forget. That it's OK. The Lord is here. His Spirit is with us. All is well, all manner of things shall be well. Underneath are the everlasting arms........ It's just God.
5 God

The point is not to wish we were at 'Stage 5'. We have to LIVE each stage, and they are each the right place to be when we are there. We must live them at our own natural pace.  

The point is to know that no stage is final (no, not even Stage 5!) and that spiritual learning and growing never ends in this life. That shouldn't be a daunting thought but, on the contrary, something that helps us enjoy every day to the full as we live it in Christ.

Jesus learned all this a lot quicker than most of us.. though it is possible for any one of us to have passed through all these stages in our young lives. But mostly it will take us much longer. Our faith is founded simply on Christ who modelled this growth for us, and who lived, in the last part of his life especially, quite carelessly.. simply trusting God to be God.

A book that gives the theological background to this is simple scheme is "How Faith Grows: Faith Development and Christian Education" written mostly by the Revd Dr Jeff Astley  and published by the National Society and Church House Publishing in 1991. It has been around a long time but the basic arguments in it still hold. This report drew greatly on the work of James Fowler. Fr Richard Rohr OFM is another writer on spirituality whose work would reflect this progression in prayer.

It is only as we work through Stage 4 that the real importance of Contemplative Prayer becomes apparent to us.