Reimagining Prayer

I’ve spent a lot of my life bouncing prayers off the ceiling. I’ve also had some good experiences with it—times when I felt uncannily heard, even if I wasn’t quite sure what I needed to say. As if sometimes the desires of my heart just managed to express themselves more effectively than I did. But how to account for that unevenness of experience?

For many decades, I’ve been consistent in trying to pray. Why hadn’t it ever quite become a place where I could find reliable personal refuge from the storms of life?

I think prayer has often functioned for me as a way to express my fear and voice my desire for control of the things about which I feel helpless, even though I’ve often yearned for it to be something more. I never dared stray far from the same, well-worn strand of words that slipped through my mind starting in childhood. 

And then about a year ago, I finally attempted to reclaim prayer for myself by coming at it from a new direction. I decided to spend a month writing a prayer every day. I wanted to use words completely different from anything I’d been taught to say by someone else. I wanted to put my prayers into the universe under their own power, unfettered even by the constraints of their previously prescribed destination—recipient unknown.

These written prayers were comprised of the observations of my every day—small things I found worthy of note as I went, things I wanted to write and hold and even share, but not with anyone I could identify. When I’d feel a nod from the Universe, I wanted from these prayers a tangible way to acknowledge it with a nod in return. Here’s one of them, the prayer sitting at the heart of the project itself:

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN—

You have given me a voice from the beginning. Did you not expect that I would want to use it? Filled me with the press of questions, with wonders deserving the honor of my attention but also my words. Trusted me with children who could not grow strong under my silence, in addition to yours. We must both tell them what we know.

You’ve demanded—commanded—my honesty, but not the kind that speaks in my language, not the secret begging for daylight. How could you have placed me here within this world’s tangled knot, asked me to let the thread ends lie helpless on the table?

Am I meant to walk in silence? Am I meant to notice only the things pointed out by someone else? When will it be my turn to point and name, to ask but also answer, to speak my way to the front of the question?

Let me draw close to you with my mouth, press my shell heart against your ear. You’ll know when I have said what I needed to say. When my foot finally rests from its eternity of nervous beating. When my silence becomes listening, rather than marking time.

That particular project to remake my personal prayers did make a difference for me. It wasn’t easy. I didn’t have trouble thinking of them as prayers, but I did have to give myself permission to write them. New permission, every single day. As if the prohibition of such a radical act was deeply imprinted somewhere too complicated to reach.

Since that project I’ve added other new things to my “prayer life,” in addition to the usual Mormon-style prayers that still punctuate my days and from which I do continue to draw real comfort. Meditative evening walks now fall under the prayer heading for me. These are less about words than they are about reaching for something without them. I’ve come to suspect I may have so far relied on language too much in my attempts to communicate with God.

I’ve started having non-prayer conversations with God too, right out loud and whenever I like. I feel we can call ourselves by our first names in these conversations, so to speak. As if our friendship has finally become just that. We use whatever kind of language suits us at the moment. We can each say what we need to say. Not everyone would recognize these as prayers, but they function like that for me, in the same way I feel better after pouring my whole self out across a table to someone for whom I don’t need to explain much.

Trying new approaches in my desire to pray has brought me closer to something that feels like two-way communication. I’ve come to the realization that praying always must surely allow prayer to look like as many different moments as there are in my day. Somehow, my “heretical” experiment with written prayers got me out of my own way just enough to finally let myself speak directly to God.

On March 19, 2020, Latter-day Faith will be hosing a virtual fireside discussion exploring ways we might approach prayer. We hope you’ll join us.
 

Praying Through Our God-Mind Within Us

In last week’s post, I explored how whatever we think about a God “out there”, the interface with God is “in here,” within us. For me, and perhaps others, our non-conscious mind may be the only God with whom we have to do.

How, then, do we pray? How does prayer work if we are praying to ourselves? How can prayer to a being within me result in a divine intervention on behalf of those for whom I pray?

How I used to pray

In the Latter-day Saint tradition, prayer has a formula:

  1. We call upon our Heavenly Father
  2. We thank him for things
  3. We ask for things
  4. We close in the name of Jesus Christ and say amen

Our formula also includes a requirement to use reverential language in addressing God: we use “thee” and “thou” in English, in such a way that prayer language somehow differs from our casual speech.

When I learned Spanish for my mission, I learned how many languages have a formal and informal reference to “you.” To someone superior to me, I use the form “usted” to demonstrate my respect. When I’m talking to a friend, I use “tu,” to connect more equally and intimately with my friend, child, or lover. A missionary never uses the informal “tu” form to talk to others: we are always to show respect.

But in prayer, in almost all languages that include a formal/informal “you,” we use the informal. We speak to God as an intimate friend, not as a superior. Oddly enough, the “thee” and “thou” from archaic King James English we use in prayer were the informal form of English. A lover would always say to the beloved in those days, “I love thee.”

How our understanding of the God-Mind changes prayer

My previous post proposed that we have within us a constant companion in our non-conscious/subconscious mind. This entity lives and reasons outside of our conscious ego-selves, forming memories from observations and emotions, and cleaning up the confusion of our lives. Because we share memories and feelings with this entity, we are in a very intimate way connected. Our non-conscious mind is indeed a “constant companion,” often a “comforter,” who helps us sort out all truth.

However we define God outside of ourselves, the reality is that our non-conscious is the interface to our conscious selves through our thoughts and emotions. When we awake from a dream, or experience a thought/feeling outside of ourselves, we become aware of the work of our non-conscious entity within us. Thus, in a very real sense, our non-conscious is our interface with God.

Within each human being, we have both a human and a divine nature, not in conflict with one another, not with one over the other, but rather, in partnership: like life-long friends who care for each other, deeply.

How, then, would I communicate with such a friend? Would it be with very formal, stilted language? Would I have to address my friend as “My Father,” with its implication of maleness and patriarchy over me? Would I have to invoke my elder brother’s name to talk to my friend? Would I use “thee” and “thou?”

Maybe I would. Sometimes friends develop a special kind of speech to talk to one another. Because I was raised with a specific Latter-day Saint formula for prayer, I tend to use “Lord” and “Heavenly Father” even if I do not accept the patriarchal aspect these words imply. But I do not think for personal prayer, the words we use—if any—actually matter: our friend understands us.

It seems to me that it’s more important for me to realize that this friend is there for me, comforting me, guiding me, a sounding board–always available, for me to articulate my concerns.

An experiment on Prayer

Over the past few weeks, I have been exploring prayer as a means to improve my contemplation each morning. The formula I’m using is not as important as the act of doing it—there are many formulas to follow. Each day I am feeling an increase in love from and for this constant companion within me as we discover the “more” that is beyond both of us.

The idea that I am talking through a real entity present with me fundamentally changes my perspective. I no longer am looking to ask for a bunch of things. Instead, I’m more reflective, more grateful, more seeking of guidance and reconciliation than intervention.

And I’m getting answers. I’m finding myself able to overcome challenges and frustrations easier, because I know there is someone alongside of me coaching me and helping me through my fears and anxieties. Prayer is no longer a magical process of getting divine intervention, but I’m experiencing the miracle of divine compassion and love, transforming my heart and actions. And I’m finding that my friend has a wicked sense of humor, and although deeply aware of my feelings, never condemns me for them.

In a couple of weeks, on Thursday, March 19th, Latter-day Faith will conduct a virtual fireside on Prayer. I’m looking forward to sharing our experiences with prayer, to make it the means for increasing our conscious contact with the God of our understanding.

What are your thoughts on prayer?