"Prayer is essentially an attitude. We trust God, we believe in Him, we turn to Him. An attitude is something permanent. So how could prayer stop when we, as it were, stop praying? It would be as if your relationship with your parents existed only when you were in actual contact with them.
"I think there are different levels of prayer. The deepest level is that wordless union with God that is indescribable. There is nothing to say about this, because there are no concepts that one can get hold of to talk about what happens. My guess would be that we all know this level, even in the most fleeting form. Has everybody not experienced a moment when beauty or wonder touched them at depth? Because this touch of God escapes all the confines of the human mind, there is literally nothing more to be said about it.
"Then there is the level that would fit more comfortably into what most people think of as prayer. We are in church, or we are on our knees, and we are, as the catechism says, 'directing the mind and heart to God.' We know what we are doing: we are praying. Most commonly we are petitioning, but also we can be glorying, or thanking, or simply telling God how we feel. (Telling God that you have a cold and are greatly tempted to impatience is perfectly valid prayer.) All church services are structured on this level of prayer. And so are meditation books. Also when we sit down to think about a passage in the Scriptures and to ponder its meanings for us. The defining note of this broad and vital level of prayer is that we use words, either vocally or mentally.
"A less structured level is what I would call spiritual talk. Here you are not directly addressing God, but are engaged in the mystery of what He is. Listening to sermons comes into this level. Saint Teresa of Avila said she had never heard a sermon so bad she could not get something from it (I suppose even compassion for the preacher). Even more, talking to friends about the things of God comes into this layer. Parents teaching their children about God comes here, and schoolteachers trying to share with their pupils a sense of God's wonder and of the actual nature of faith. All these occupations make sense only because we want to love God. In their own way they are an expression of that love and a means of deepening it.
"There are, obviously, large parts of the day, most of it in fact, where none of these activities are taking place: our working day. We do not sanctify our normal activities by interspersing them with pious thoughts. Work demands as its right our full concentration, and so does much else in the day. God's good food surely we should appreciate it and take time to do so. The companionship of friends and all that makes leisure pleasurable: these are things to be enjoyed and savored, not rushed through as not truly spiritual. Jesus shocked the pious of His day by His delight in rather raffish company. He was criticized as a 'glutton and a wine-bibber,' only, as far as one can see, because He had a healthy enjoyment of what it means to be human. Yet how can we doubt that at every moment Jesus was intimately united with His Father? Providing wine for the wedding guests at Cana was as sacramental for Him as feeding the apostles with His body and blood at the Last Supper. All life is holy. If we are truly oriented toward God, then our slightest activities shaving, reading the newspaper, putting out the cat are a form of prayer.
"One might call this the lowest level of prayer and of itself, it will not sustain us. But then it is not expected to. An attitude that seeks God as primary reality will always move deeper and deeper to the heart of prayer. What love could be satisfied with peripheral contact? Love will always seek to come closer and closer, so paradoxically the lowest level of prayer is not possible without the higher. 'Love me and do what you will.' Because if you love, you will always be held in the nexus of that love, and you will never will anything that denies it."