To pray is not difficult, nor does it require special learning.
To turn to God to confess limits, to ask help, to thank and praise him is in fact natural for human beings, a spontaneous impulse in women and men of every culture and civilization in every historical period.
Even when adverse circumstances—ignorance or sin, refusal of a given religious idea or of all forms of religiosity—inhibit prayer, people pray all the same; when they look around themselves with attention, open themselves to the beauty of creation, and allow themselves to be touched by the suffering of others, in a certain sense they pray.
Yet beyond this instinctive orientation, for which every human “I” implies a divine “Thou,” there is also a kind of prayer that is conscious and articulate, “well-formulated,” which men and women do not know a priori but have to be taught.
“Lord, teach us to pray,” Jesus’s disciples asked, reminding him that John the Baptist had done just that for his followers. And Jesus then taught them the prayer-formula that Christians even today learn at their mothers’ knees: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. . . .”
There is in fact an art of prayer that can be transmitted from masters to disciples as from parents to children. The places designated for its transmission are indeed, first, the family, where children initially learn words and gestures with which to enter into relation with God, and then the community of other believers: in Christianity, the Church, considered mater et magistra (mother and teacher) of faith.
Ecclesial tradition also recognizes a “law of prayer” whose function is to shape faith, as suggested by the phrase lex orandi, lex credendi (literally: the law of praying is the law of believing), expressing an idea that goes back to early Christianity. It is not an actual legal norm but a rule in the service of creativity, for faith and prayer in effect are creative responses by which creatures made “in the image and likeness” of the Creator relate to him with the help of imagination.
This way of describing faith and prayer—as fruits of imagination—suggests why the Church has always attributed importance to art. Images put before believers can in fact teach them how to turn to God in prayer, and the same Pope Saint Gregory the Great who stated that “painting gives the illiterate what the written word offers readers” also insisted that the faithful be led from vision to adoration.