I was going to title this post, How to Pray, but that made me laugh.
Who am I to tell you how to pray?
You were born knowing how to pray.
But maybe, sometimes, if you’re like me…you forget.
Maybe, sometimes, you feel like God is far away and you are floating out in the darkness somewhere straining to make connection.
I don’t believe there’s anyone who always feels connected.
Maybe connection comes in little flashes and tiny moments so vivid they keep us going during long stretches of feeling alone.
Maybe connection is happening all the time and we just don’t realize it.
Why We Pray
We pray to give thanks, we pray to praise, we pray to beseech, we pray to be heard.
We pray because praying weaves a basket in which we float down the river.
We pray because in prayer, we remember who we are and to whom we belong.
We pray because we are lonely, hurting, searching, unclear, unsteady, afraid.
We pray because we are joyous.
We pray as a way to dive into the mystery.
We pray because we are hard-wired to pray.
Maybe you don’t pray because you’re unsure about what you believe, but I’ve come to feel that prayer doesn’t require belief.
You probably pray, even if you don’t call what you do prayer.
Our hearts are designed to open.
Our hearts are designed to reach out.
When we pray, we open our hearts to God and one another.
I pray in church and I pray with paint.
Almost anything can be a prayer and prayer can happen anywhere, although I am a big believer in creating and maintaining sacred space.
There’s a reason why churches feel different than unconsecrated spaces. It’s all the prayers. Layers and layers and layers and layers of prayers.
I’ve done a lot reading and exploring and thinking about prayer, and here are a few things I know (or think I know.):
Prayer is not magic.
Prayer is not a method for getting my way. Prayer is not telling God my plan and expecting God to make it happen.
Do I tell God what I want?
Prayer is not an ordering service.
Prayer is not placing an order for what I want and expecting it to show up.
The world does not revolve around me and my desires.
I don’t even know what I want much of the time, even if I think I do, because I’m not omniscient. I don’t know the future. I don’t ever see the whole picture of anything because…I am human.
Does God sometimes give me exactly what I want and things even better than what I thought I wanted?
But I tend to think that happens when either
a. allowing me to have that thing doesn’t negatively influence anyone or anything else or
b. the thing I wanted was part of my soul’s plan all along.
My point is, prayer isn’t a method for getting what I want.
Prayer helps me cope with what is.
When I pray, I don’t change God.
God changes me.
Prayer is presence.
Prayer is making space and showing up.
Prayer is stepping into silence and allowing my heart to expand into God – allowing God to expand into my heart.
Prayer is being here.
Prayer is a two-way conversation.
In prayer, I speak to God, but I also listen and God speaks back.
Maybe not right away, or in a way that I immediately recognize, but God does respond to prayer.
Prayer isn’t always words.
Beauty is prayer.
Music is prayer.
Movement is prayer.
Some of the music our choir sang at the Ash Wednesday liturgy was composed by William Byrd. It was beautiful.
After the service, my mom said to me, “Isn’t it amazing to think, Queen Elizabeth heard that same music?”
My mind flashed to Queen Elizabeth. “Um, yeah, I guess,” I said.
“I think William Byrd was her court composer,” She said.
Oh! She meant Queen Elizabeth I.
That is the power of tradition and ritual. That is why (one of the reasons why) I say prayers in church that on the surface, to our contemporary ears, may sound off-putting.
Those prayers are backed up by generations and generations and generations of people who prayed them before me.
There is a strength in that, a support.
There is something deeply moving and incredibly powerful and bolstering about carrying ritual forward.
You know that I pray in church and you know that I pray with paint, but there is another way to pray that I want to share with you right now.
I want to share it because it’s so simple and so illuminating and because I’m curious to know how it goes for you.
How to Keep a Prayer Journal
Go to your sacred space
Maybe it’s your church; maybe it’s an altar in your home; maybe it’s the woods.
Where is holy to you?
Where do you feel calm and peaceful?
Ground, center, breathe
Get comfortable, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths.
Light a candle.
Feel that you are anchored and supported.
Talk to God
Silently. Out loud. It doesn’t matter.
Just talk to God. Share everything that’s on your mind or in your heart. Don’t try to pretty it up because God knows the whole truth anyway.
Ask a question if you have one.
Express gratitude if you are thankful.
Be with God. That’s the important thing.
Make space and be.
Listen and write what you hear, sense, or feel
Open up your journal and listen.
Then, start writing (this works best if you have a pen that you love to hold. One that glides across the page. Seriously).
Write what you think, what you feel, what you sense.
You know that voice that speaks to you all the time inside your head? The you that nobody else hears? Write down what that voice is saying. Any images floating into your mind’s eye? Describe them. Any physical sensations? Record them.
God just talked to you.
Now, I don’t mean that you need to jump up and run to the store to buy Fruity Pebbles because you heard the phrase Fruity Pebbles.
That you that talks to you inside your head isn’t always right.
Sometimes that you says things that are really off-base.
But what I am saying is, the you that talks to you inside your head – your imagination, your intuition – God uses that channel to talk to you.
Intuition and imagination are God’s language.
So, how do you know an answer is an answer?
Through the process of discernment.
Let what you’ve written sit. Come back to it later. Read over it. How does it feel?
Take the same question or issue into prayer day after day, week after week.
Collect the responses.
Are they loving? (Probably God)
Are they judging? (Probably not God)
Do they sound like your ego?
Do they feel like an answer?
Anything unexpected? Anything you don’t understand?
What’s going on in your solar plexus?
Buy a beautiful new journal with pristine blank pages and a cover that calls to you. Find a pen that flows like velvet on the page. Get a brand new candle in a scent that transports you.
Create your sacred space, light your candle and pray.
Record the response to your prayer in your journal.
Repeat every day for a week.
On the seventh day, look back and read everything you’ve written.
What message is God speaking into your heart?
Praying With Others
I’d been praying this way – with a journal – for years when it suddenly dawned on me that this didn’t have to be only about me.
If I can pray for myself this way, I thought, why can’t I pray for other people this way?
Get together with a close friend, a prayer buddy, if you will.
Talk to your friend about your question or issue – the part of your life you’re praying about and then listen as your friend talks to you.
Separately, engage in the prayer journaling process on one another’s behalf.
At the end of the seven days, get together again and compare notes.
What do your friend’s messages mean to you? What do yours mean to her?
I’d love to hear about your prayer journaling experience.
Share in the comments or join us in the Creating With the Sacred Feminine group and let’s talk about it there.
Either way, I look forward to hearing about your prayers.