Even before we understand the concept of prayer, we are initiated into its rhythms. When we are raised in the faith, we learn the words to many prayers long before their true meaning begins to become intelligible to our still forming minds. When I was in Guatemala, I remember watching a mother take the hand of her toddler and guide his hand towards making the sign of the Cross. This becomes a great symbol of the mystery of the faith. We do not petition our Father from our own inner resources or on our own initiative, but rather everything of prayer is first received.
In this way, prayer is not about originality. This can be taken to extremes were the prayer lives of some may consist only of formulas and vocal prayers. Although such exaggerations are to be avoided, they still do not diminish the truth. Prayer is initiated by our conformity to a whole way of thinking and being that comes from a living tradition that is greater than our limited understanding. In our early years, when prayer seems more an external ritual, our main task is to begin to take on the language and identity of prayer. This is essentially communal in nature.
In this article, I am alluding to what the tradition calls vocal prayer. Vocal prayer is the foundation of prayer, the bedrock on which we rise to the more spontaneous and contemplative aspects of prayer. In this way, vocal prayer is our daily bread which provides essential nourishment to our spiritual lives. A prayer life that is not anchored in vocal prayer needs to be carefully reconsidered. When religious and priests engage in meditation and contemplative prayer, it is because their minds have first been formed by the words of the psalms and the other prescribed prayers of the Church.
In this way, the more intuitive and spontaneous nature of meditation finds its firm support from a daily rhythm of vocal prayer. The prayer of the Church, the liturgy in all its fullness, is essentially the form of vocal prayer par excellence. At the center of the liturgy is the sacrifice of the Mass. From this focal point, the liturgy of the hours finds its identity and core, and rounds out the day by sanctifying prescribed periods with psalms and scripture. Although the liturgy is also meditative and contemplative, in its simplest manifestation it is the core of vocal prayer.
A concrete step that all people can make is to prayer one or more of the prayer periods for the liturgy of the hours. There are five total. The shortest and most convenient are Daytime prayer and Compline (or Night Prayer). Lauds (morning) and Vespers (evening) are the two main hours of the day, and the Office of Readings can be prayed at any time. I would recommend starting with compline as your schedule permits.