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Dimensions of Prayer

An old acronym may serve here: ACTS.

That is, there are different kinds of prayer, as determined by what it seeks or is trying to say: Adoration, Contrition, Thanksgiving, Supplication.

Adoration is the first act of the virtue of religion. Have you ever seen a sunrise or a mountain vista that made you want to cry aloud in sheer joy at the beauty you experienced? It is our destiny and highest joy, to find Someone to worship, to kneel before. Adoration is at the very heart of the spiritual life. It is the scene in the Book of Revelation, Chapter 4, where the 24 elders prostrate themselves before the throne of God, cast the honor of their golden crowns before him, and sing, "Holy, holy, holy. You are worthy, O Lord." No one else is truly holy; no one else is worthy, worth it, worth all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. All sin and misery come of forgetting this truth, and going after the worship of false gods, whether these are corruptions of real religion, or mere creatures like sex, money, and power.

Contrition is the awareness and expression of being merely a creature, and a weak and flawed creature at that, in the presence of the Holy One. We make mistakes; we fail; we fall. To realize that and to pray is comforting and relaxing, for it just confesses who and what we are and the way things are. No need to pretend. God loved us before we existed and knows all our faults. God is merciful. God forgives no matter how many times we fail.

Thanksgiving is joyous praise of God. One who can thank God for everything, good and bad, is a truly happy person. Gratitude and joy are so closely related. And gratitude is a basis for expecting further favors. A little girl compliments her grandmother on her wonderful pie — and asks for more.

Supplication. From the viewpoint of ordinary language and the human condition, this is what prayer means — petition. We ask God for what we need. All prayer is asking. The Our Father is a list of petitions, from "hallowed be thy name" to "deliver us from evil." If God is bothered by prayers of petition, it is His own fault. Jesus has urged us, "Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you" (Mt 7:7).

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