The Holy Spirit: Teacher of Prayer
The Holy Spirit is the great teacher of prayer. At Pentecost, according to the Acts of the Apostles, the Holy Spirit gathered the first followers of Jesus together in prayer. The Spirit taught them to remember Jesus, to recall the Jewish Scriptures, to break the bread of the Eucharist, to recognize a new creation in the waters of baptism. "The Spirit helps us in our weakness," St.Paul says, "for we do not know how to pray as we ought..." (Romans 8, 26)
Today the Holy Spirit fulfills that role in us, too. The Spirit is "the interior Master of Christian prayer", our guide and instructor. We learn to pray from the Spirit's inspiration.
Praying through the Jewish Scriptures: Patriarchs and Prophets
One way the Holy Spirit teaches us to pray is through the Old Testament which, along with the New Testament, is the Holy Spirit's book of prayer. The patriarchs and the prophets, the history of Israel, the great prayers we call the psalms, instruct us in prayer. Jesus himself learned to pray through them and his own prayer reflects that tradition.
Look at the early patriarchs, great figures like Abel and Noah, who were inspired by the Spirit. How did they pray? Living close to the soil and the creatures of earth, they saw God's gifts in their flocks, the crops in their fields, the heavens that sent rain. For them creation was a gift, not just to be used, but to be admired for its beauty. By cherishing the created world they learned about God and praised the Creator.
Didn't Noah cherish creation when he built the ark? He built the ark not just to save himself but to save the creatures of the earth who were threatened with destruction. Noah's prayer was typical of the prayers of the patriarchs; he deeply appreciated God's creation. In the Jewish scriptures you can still hear echoes of their reverent prayer rooted in creation's blessings: "Sun and moon, stars of heaven, fire and heat, all you birds of the air, all you beasts, wild and tame, bless the Lord." (Daniel 3, 57 ff)
It is still true that we can know our Maker from what he made. If you keep your eye on God's creation, and care for it, and admire its beauty, you will prepare yourself for praying well. The created world, so varied, so charming in its many-splendored beauty, will lift your heart to the Source of all beauty.
Welcoming God's Presence Day by Day
Through Abraham the Spirit teaches us another lesson of prayer. God invited the patriarch to leave his own land and go to the place God would show him. His life was a journey day by day. At certain points Abraham would set up an altar, as a reminder that God accompanied him on his path to the unknown. Day by day he prayed and welcomed what God sent.
One day, the scriptures say, Abraham welcomed three mysterious guests who came in the heat of the day to his tent. (Genesis 18, 1-16) Welcoming them, he welcomed God, the story says, and received a blessing. Does not the Spirit teach in the example of Abraham that we should prayerfully welcome God's presence in life day by day, even though that presence is not always clear?
Daily faithful prayer to God is constantly promoted in the Jewish scriptures. Listen to the psalms:
"I will bless you day by day
and praise your name for ever." (Ps 145)
"On the day I called you answered me;
you increased the strength of my soul." (Ps 138)
Wrestling with God, Praying for Others, Praying for our World
The figures of scripture offer us other lessons in prayer. Jacob wrestles in the dark with a mysterious stranger. Our prayer can sometimes be a time of wrestling with God as we question and doubt. (Genesis 32, 22-32)
Moses' prayer was a prayer of intercession. Climbing the mountain he pleaded with God for his people who wander astray, who are hungry and lose heart. And God heard his prayers. Like him, we should pray in solidarity with those around us.
"Who is like you among the gods, O Lord...
In your steadfast love you led the people whom you redeemed;
you guided them by your strength to your holy abode." (Exodus 15, 11-13)
King David, whose prayers are traditionally celebrated in the Book of Psalms, praised and invoked God whom he saw present in the temple, in the Holy City, in the fortunes of the people. Like him we pray to God who sent his Son, Jesus Christ and whose presence we celebrate in his church and society.
Look to these great witnesses of prayer and what they teach. The Holy Spirit teaches us through them. By imitating them, our own life of prayer can grow stronger."I cry aloud to the Lord,
and he answers me from his holy hill.
I lie down and sleep;
I awake again, for the Lord sustains me." (Psalm 3, 4-5)