Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Do You Have a Prayer?

May 6:
National Day of Prayer

© 2010 by Joyce Mason

We live increasingly in a world that is more secular than religious. Many people—myself included—embrace a spirituality that encompasses ideas from many traditions, rather than the sole tenets of a specific faith.

This made me wonder if—and how—modern people pray. Whatever your belief in higher power (I’ll call Him/Her/It “God,” asking you to translate to your own belief system:

God doesn’t need us to pray to Him. We are the ones who need the prayers.

Or at least that’s how I see it.

While the National Day of Prayer in the US is a Christian observance, noticing it on my calendar sparked these questions. I’m very curious what prayer looks like across faiths, or lack of any one in particular, in the 21st Century.

My own relationship with God is a lot like Tevye’s in Fiddler on the Roof—personal, tangible, conversational. Or as Mick says in the movie Crocodile Dundee, “Me ‘n’ God be mates.” We’re in constant communication, and I feel a part of the Spirit in which we’re all joined. Still, I need those prayers.

Prayer in Tough Times

In the women’s circles I facilitate and/or participate in, most prayers are for people having a hard time—illness, financial struggle, unraveling relationships, to name just a few examples. It’s surprising how the prayers almost all come down to this. Do we only reach out for divine connection when we struggle? People seem to have an easier time doing this for others than themselves, although the women in my groups are getting far better over time at asking for what they need.

Then there are the prayers—more like follow-up queries—that continue after trouble. “Why did you take my baby from me?” In my case, the baby refers to a cat that was so much a part of me, two and a half years later, I still feel like someone amputated one of my limbs. You can substitute wife, mother, father … and I suspect many of us have made this divine entreaty. It’s a plea to understand loss that is so deep, it’s just not fathomable.

Prayers of Thanksgiving

This is my favorite kind of prayer. It says, “Hello, God, it’s me, (fill in your name)—and I’m grateful for all you give me for no other reason than your abundant generosity.” This is why I love Thanksgiving, the holiday. People finally thank God and offer up prayers for the right reason—gratitude.

Regular worship services often cover this ground well. But if you’re not a churchgoer, it’s easy to skip the preliminaries of thankfulness and use prayer as a gimme or help-me. It’s a bit childlike, where we are constantly asking for our needs to be met and our elders have to remind us to say please and thank you.

I don’t mean to imply we shouldn’t ask for help when we’re hurting, worried or mourning. However, on balance, I would be quite irritated as a Divine Parent if the only reason someone bothered to contact me was to hit me up for money and influence. I think it would be more appropriate to start every prayer with gratitude for what we have before we ask for more—or beg for changes in the cosmic plan. (It’s remarkable how many of us seem to think God doesn’t know what s/he’s doing.)

God the Father/Mother—Creative Fire

Maybe that’s one of the problems with the way we pray—God the Parent. This is a long-held view of the divine force, and it’s hard to undo because it’s a concept we can so easily understand as humans. Many of us had less-than-ideal parenting, so the idea that there’s some Perfect Parent in the Sky is truly appealing.

But what if God is even bigger than that? My favorite creation story comes from the channeled Michael Teachings. It rings true to me as the largest, most comprehensive, and metaphorical explanation of how life works in the earth-to-sky interface. This philosophy describes God as the Creative Fire or the Tao. The Tao decided it wanted company to share and enjoy its creations. It cast out sparks of itself (us), who are sent to earth without their knowing they are part of the One. Our mission is to use our creativity to come back to the One. (If you want to explore this more, see the Michael Teaching link or my holiday post based on this material, name Turn on the Lights!)

The Divine Escape Clause

My first spiritual teacher, the late Betty Bethards, taught me early on that we really shouldn’t tell God how to do it. We don’t have the “view from the mountain,” the big picture that comes with omniscience. She suggested we always add at the end of any prayer:

This or something better.

This speaks to the idea that there may be an even better outcome than the one we are asking for—that our idea of what’s best for us may be limited, even quite the opposite of what will bring joy. It could be full of pitfalls we haven’t thought of. (“Be careful what you pray for,” as the warning goes.) The Divine Escape Clause also reminds us not to tell God how to do it. The being or force with all the creativity in the universe in his “hands” probably can handle the situation without our suggestions! And most likely, in a way that’s more elegant than we ever imagined. One of my favorite quotes in Illusions by Richard Bach says it best:

The original sin is to limit the Is. Don’t.

Prayer Techniques

I love prayers from many traditions, and where they come from isn’t as important to me as resonating to the sentiment.

In one of my groups, we pray by lighting candles and saying the name of the person for whom the prayer is offered three times. My Catholic core adores the candles as part of my original tradition, and I know the power of three, starting with the Trinity. The metaphor that each of us is a light in the world is strengthened by a symbol of light. Our prayers and the light of the candle brighten the light of the individual in need.

This is a simple and lovely way to pray. We have a plate full of votive candles and often end of lighting them all—and occasionally going into extra innings and additional candles. After the individual prayers are complete, we begin praying in larger concentric circles of caring. For example, we might pray for California’s ailing economy or the world economy; for peace in the Middle East; for the protection of all children; or for the best outcome for all in an upcoming election.

When we feel complete with our prayers, each of us grabs a crystal to focus the healing energy we have evoked. We envision a globe in the center of the table where the candles are lit. Our other vision is a vortex of energy, carrying the prayers upward to rain their blessing on the world and all the people in it.

My Favorite Prayers

Prayers are poems to God or the love that joins us all. While I often prefer “conversations,” there are many prayers that move me so much; I will say them as long as I have lips to move. No two prayers have ever touched me as much as The Prayer of St. Francis, also known as The Peace Prayer, and the 23rd Psalm. Here are my top five of many favorites:

1. Prayer of St. Francis
“Lord make me an instrument of Thy peace …”

2. The 23rd Psalm,
especially the feminine version by Bobby McFerrin, dedicated to his mother. There is something incredibly comforting about this classic prayer. It calms fear with the gentle reminder that Love is our shepherd.

3. Deep Peace,
a Gaelic Blessing – My favorite is a performance is in this You Tube video by John Rutter and choir at a memorial for the victims of the Virginia Tech shooting massacre. It is so touching; it gave me chills.

4. Judy Chicago’s Prayer
“And then …

5. How wonderful, O Lord are the works of your hands!
A traditional Jewish prayer.

Prayer Collections

As a person who does spiritually eclectic celebrations, prayer collections are some of my favorite books. The one that truly changed me is Prayers for Planetary Pilgrims by Fr. Edward Hay. In this book, my Catholic roots meet my cosmic perspective. Fr. Hay has prayers for every human condition, emotion, season and celebration imaginable. It’s a don’t miss!

Two of other well-worn prayer references and preferences:

Prayers for Healing: 365 Blessings, Poems & Meditations from Around the World,
edited by Maggie Oman. They are presented in a prayer-a-day format.

A Grateful Heart: Daily Blessings for the Evening Meal from Buddha to the Beatles, edited by M.J. Ryan. T
his book is a treasure with its harvest scene cover and prayers divided into the four seasons—prayers that are wonderful not just as grace before meals but any time of the day or night.

Lastly, I have found more great prayers via Google than you can imagine, including several poetic renditions of the original Aramaic version of The Lords Prayer, another favorite.

Living Life as a Prayer

My true goal is to live life as a prayer—in integrity with my beliefs and with love and gratitude for the light in which we’re all joined.

To pray is a verb.

You can pray while singing, dancing, vacuuming or making love. Doing good works is prayer in action. Whenever Spirit is a partner in any activity, it can be offered up as a living prayer. I used to attend a local metaphysical church called the Temple of Living Prayer. That’s what I want to be—a walking, talking prayer vessel. That kind of holiness/wholeness isn’t goody two-shoes; it’s simply having “the spirit” in you and acting from it. That’s why this blog is dedicated to spirited living.

To be fully alive is prayer itself, as is being the “instrument of peace” that St. Francis modeled is the essence of living prayer. There are many forms of the verb to pray.

What are yours?

Pray tell.

Photo Credit:
Offering Candles © Travellingtwo | Dreamstime.com


LB said...

Hi Joyce – My favorite prayer goes something like this: “Please God, open doors no human can open, and close doors no human can close so that your will can be accomplished in my life.” It’s a powerful prayer and one that requires a huge leap of faith; I have to believe that God knows better than I do what it is that I truly need.

I also frequently pray that God show me the way and make me a willing participant in his highest good for me (i.e., the best plan, not necessarily MY plan.) I’ve learned that most of the time, it doesn’t work for me to pray for a specific outcome or result, unless it involves praying for the well-being of others.

You’re right about dancing being a form of prayer. I’ve often felt closest to God when I dance. Singing can be a form of worship as well, particularly when the music speaks to us on a deep soul-level. There are several songs that always take me where I need to go. And lastly, I often feel a deep sense of gratitude when I’m out walking – it’s often then that I take time to say a silent prayer of thanks.

I really appreciated this post. It also reminded me of Betty Bethards, someone I haven’t thought about in years. Although I can’t quite remember how, I know her teachings had a huge influence on my way of thinking. I think I’ll have to pick up one of her dream books. Thanks Joyce.

Joyce Mason said...

Hi, LB--

So grateful for your comment! It says in more solid terms something I meant to cover more explicitly, namely the practice of praying for the highest good of all concerned. Bravo!

Singing is so "up there" as a form of prayer. Some of the happiest days of my life were the five years I spent signing in my local Unitarian choir and singing my way through most of my childhood. :)

Glad to know you were a fan of Betty's. She was a terrific first teacher on the metaphysical path. I loved the simplicity and earthiness of her teaching style ... and how, thanks to her, I learned early-on about the importance of meditation. She was the best!