Let’s start with the definition of prayer, the most classical definition that you learn in Sunday School: “the lifting up of heart and mind to God.” It is not saying prayers, obviously; it is not even an action doing this or doing that. It is an attitude, an attitude of lifting up heart and mind to God. So, start the other way around and ask, “What lifts up your heart and mind? What gives you a lift?”

You might say, “Well, for me it’s fishing. Fishing gives me a lift.” That’s wonderful then – fishing is your primary prayer, as long as you do it in an open-hearted way. As long as you let it do something to you, rather than you grasping something with it. This is very often the case with people who go fishing. It seems to me as I watch them sitting there fishing, that they are often just as meditative as people who sit by the Ganges River without a fishing rod. I get the impression that this fishing rod is just an excuse for sitting by the river and meditating. I wouldn’t be surprised if in many cases it was really a very deep prayer.

But there may be something else that lifts up your heart and mind to God. Whatever lifts up your heart, focus on that. Ask yourself, “How does that feel?” and “Why does it come about?” Very frequently it will come about because it raises in you a sense of gratefulness. If that is the case, then do whatever you do not consider prayer – what does not lift up your heart and mind to God – gratefully, or joyfully, or with an open heart, or whatever the essence of your prayer is. Then it will be prayer.

(Transcribed from a 2010 talk for Spiritual Directors International)

Now featured in a book by Celeste Yacoboni, How Do You Pray? Inspiring Responses from Religious Leaders, Spiritual Guides, Healers, Activists and Other Lovers of Humanity

Br. David Steindl-Rast
Br. David Steindl-Rast, OSB

Br. David Steindl-Rast, OSB

About the author

Brother David Steindl-Rast — author, scholar, and Benedictine monk — is beloved the world over for his enduring message about gratefulness as the true source of lasting happiness. Known to many as the “grandfather of gratitude,” Br. David has been a source of inspiration and spiritual friendship to countless leaders and luminaries around the world including Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, Thomas Merton, and more. He has been one of the most important figures in the modern interfaith dialogue movement, and has taught with thought-leaders such as Eckhart Tolle, Jack Kornfield, and Roshi Joan Halifax. His wisdom has been featured in recent interviews with Oprah Winfrey, Krista Tippett, and Tami Simon and his TED talk has been viewed almost 10,000,000 times. Learn more about Br. David here.