Prayer is usually divided up into four distinct types: adoration, contrition, thanksgiving and expression of needs. But Bishop Robert Baker of Charleston, S.C., observes that a fifth type, the questioner’s prayer, often gets misunderstood.
“When we’re confused or in a quandary, one of the sincerest prayers we can address to God is the prayer that expresses our confusion in a heartfelt manner: ‘How, God? When, God? What, God? Where, God? Who, God,’ ” writes Bishop Baker in the introduction to “The Questioner’s Prayer” (OSV, $9.95).
Bishop Baker wrote the book after the illness and death of his brother. It is Bishop Baker’s attempt to “help give voice to the questions you have for God in prayer — from a perspective of faith.”
He spoke with Our Sunday Visitor about the need to understand this type of prayer.
Our Sunday Visitor: Many of us feel we shouldn’t question God and his motives. It sounds like you are saying otherwise.
Bishop Robert Baker: There’s a difference between a question and a doubt. A question is a sincere attempt to find an answer and is also open to an answer. Doubt denies God’s presence and there_fore his ability to answer.
Also, some people have the mistaken notion, “Who am I to be asking questions of God?” Questioning God is an appropriate method of prayer, and it isn’t a sign of a lack of faith. In fact, we should be asking questions. As our pope said recently, “We have to ask questions. Those who do not ask do not get a reply.” If you look at how Jesus taught you will see that many of his teachings were the result of people asking him questions.
OSV: Why haven’t we heard more about it?
Bishop Baker: Questioner’s prayer is something that has been dealt with only indirectly, except for the past two popes. Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have spoken to modern man by addressing his deepest concerns. That is the same approach I used in the book. Prayer is bringing everything that concerns my life and my pastoral responsibilities to God. I ask God how to handle certain pastoral situations.
OSV: Do you ask a lot of questions?
Bishop Baker: Yes. And I learned very early on that if you’re pursuing truth, then there is no need to be afraid of asking questions. The truth stands on its own. Questions are good if they honestly pursue the truth. The only way to get to the truth is by asking questions. Who hasn’t asked the questions: “How am I going to pay these bills?” “What should I do with my life?” I found that the more questions I asked the more truth I found.
OSV: Everyone would like to pray more and pray better, the problem is finding the time. How do you manage to pray given the busy life of a bishop?
Bishop Baker: Prayer is the center of my life. I have a sense that God is with me always. The scandals and day-to-day con_cerns don’t weigh me down. I have a chapel with the Blessed Sacrament at my house where I try to do mental prayer, the Liturgy of the Hours, Stations of the Cross and the Rosary.
I try to space out Liturgy of the Hours, but sometimes I have to do them together, but I never omit them. I tell young priests that the only reason to miss Liturgy of the Hours would be serious illness. The power of liturgical prayer and Mass is bet_ter than private prayer. At Mass, Jesus is praying with his Church and in universal prayer.
Praying the divine office is essential to anyone involved in pastoral ministry. Ministry flows from prayer not the other way around. I was ordained in 1970. My generation was too social-Gospel oriented.
OSV: What advice do you have to add prayer to our lives?
OSV: I encourage families to start by keeping the Sabbath by making it to Mass on Sundays. That is the first step toward living for God instead of for ourselves. I also remind people that prayer of interrogation is also prayer of transparency — being totally open. If you’re not questioning you may be hiding something from God.
Questioner’s Quick Starter Kit
How could God expect me to be a good (fill in the blank)?
Lord, are we on the threshold of your return?
What can I expect when I leave everything to follow you?
Where are you, Jesus?
Who can be saved?
Mark Sullivan writes from Pennsylvania.
This article originally appeared in OSV on July 22, 2007.