How Do You Pray?

I am a Unitarian Universalist and whether or not you are as well I am interested in having a conversation about how we approach prayer from our different traditions. Specifically, I am interested in new forms of prayer and practice that are aware of the post-Christian, religiously pluralistic country in which we live. Does prayer change in this context? Does prayer change over time? Over the life of the universe or the life of person? And equally important, how does continued scientific advancement change our perception of prayers of petition, which often dominate prayer practice?

As religious leaders in formation, this is a really important topic because it is possible that the people we serve could continue to have diversified ways that they choose to understand and engage in prayer. Also, prayer in multifaith settings will likely continue to grow and to consider how we interact in these settings is also an important venture to take.

I want to share a few of my thoughts and then really encourage you to comment with some of your own thoughts and questions, reflections and ideas. I hope that this can lead to a series of posts exploring our collective engagement and reflections together as fellow state of formation travelers.

If we move away from understanding prayer simply in the transactional, “Dear God” manner, we are able to unveil new life celebrating, life sustaining practices of prayer. We can live lives of thankfulness, mindfulness, and intention in all we do. It need not focus on to whom the prayer is offered, but about what its subject is. In that sense, our prayers can seek not immediate response like going through the drive-through at a fast food restaurant, but instead allowing these prayers to help us transform ourselves.

Chicago-area UU minister, Adam Robersmith approaches prayer by saying we should do it not to change the word, but to change ourselves. Truly, this is what happens when we devote some time every week to focus on our breath and bring to mind the important things in our lives, the joys and sorrows of our past week.

Prayer is a very human thing we can do together, just as coming together to sing, learn, share, and grow together is. Regardless of one’s theological identity, prayer can be something you do. It can have meaning, it can be reunderstood in a way that works for people of all different kinds of religious or non-religious backgrounds. I hope that this can spark a new prayer, your next or even your first prayer. I offer this one to you all: May our hearts be opened to the immense wonder and beauty of the universe, so that we may journey ever more gracefully towards peace.

Now it’s your turn; what are the different ways you pray or think about prayer? Post a comment or write a post in response and let’s have a conversation about this ubiquitous spiritual practice that spans most religious traditions and human lives in this country.

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5 thoughts on “How Do You Pray?

  1. Great post; loads of dialogue points.

    As I have matured into Quaker practice, I have come to believe that as I breath, I pray. Quaker belief is that the divine is within us – a ‘light’ is the most often used metaphor. This light is both within, and omnipresent. Therefore: as I think, as I converse, as I walk my dog – these are prayer I engage.

    Further – my decisions are prayer. Kale: economy or organic? Tip: standard 15% or more, to help the server pay bills this month? The actions I make dictate how I think life ought to be lived; they effect the world and its inhabitants in substantiative measures.

    For me, the takeaway is that: prayer is less about the words I use/say, and more about those I don’t/can’t.

  2. Oh, what a wonderful subject to explore! Prayer is a way of living out my life one day at a time. Each night, I reflect over my day and focus in on an emotion, action, lack of action or where my relating was with friends or spouse. It is a way of observing where I let love in or gave love or rejected love. It is a way of connecting intimately with the G-d who loves and lives through me. It can encompass many things such as an appeal to G-d but mostly it is a way to connect our spiritual lives to the Holy Spirit that resides in us. It is life lifted up.

  3. Nicolas, thank you for your beautiful reflection and prayer. Yes, may our hearts and minds be opened to the interdependency of all life and immense wonder and beauty of the universe, so that we as humanity may journey ever more gracefully towards peace for the benefit of all beings.

  4. Joseph: I really appreciate your sharing about Quaker prayer as you have come to know and live it. I value the idea of breath as prayer, as understanding prayer beyond the traditional kneeling before bedtime ritual. I think you show how prayer can really work outside of a traditional context and in a way that people of all religious and perhaps even non-religious backgrounds can approach prayer. Do you think that it can be dangerous to suggest everything we do is prayer? Or is there some sort of requisite for something to be considered prayer, such as attentiveness or awareness? Thanks for sharing!

    Amy: I think you shared some awesome benefits that prayer plays within your life and could play in the lives of others. Especially, as you use it as a moment to focus on each day as an individual moment in life. A way to check in at the end of the day seems like it could be very helpful and centering. What I notice, like with Joseph’s comment is that you suggest that the Holy Spirit is something that resides within us. I like this idea too because if it just resides in me or just inside of you, what is the point? but, if it resides in us, now there is our interconnection, their is our interdependence, and their is the compelling force that leads us to work together to achieve greater peace and justice in the world. Would you share a little more about what you mean by, “It is life lifted up” ? It sounds like a fascinating idea…

    Enver: A true poet. Thank you for sharing this prayer and I hope that you are able to journey with me as we continue down our paths together!

    ALL: So, where do we go from here? Is there more here to want to learn and study? Perhaps we could devise some sort of survey that we could send out to other SoF writers? Or a way to get more to weigh in. You know, this is just really interesting to me: how our ideas of prayer are inevitably changing as society changes, as religious diversity grows, or science increases. How are our religious practices also transformed? Let me know how we can work together, if interested to pursue these questions further.

    In Peace,

  5. Nic, thank you for initiating this conversation. I especially appreciate your prayer offering at the end, because it reminds me that there are ways I can more easily navigate offering a prayer in an interfaith environment.

    Sometimes I stumble when I am asked to offer a prayer over a meal. I was raised in language designed for prayers of petition, which my family continues to use — I don’t want to offend them or say something completely irrelevant to their ears, but it is difficult for me to speak that way. My solution has typically been to focus on gratitude for the earth and the hands that made the meal possible, I know that the common thanksgiving and love is shared. But I think that I can improve my offering, and definitely make it less stilted as I try to navigate differing language use.

    Here are some questions for everyone: how do you manage offering interfaith prayers at an event? If you are asked to pray for a diverse group, what is your strategy for inclusion while also speaking from your background/beliefs?

    As for the potential of prayer, I find it most intuitive to consider things through a meditative, intentional frame. To go deep within and expand beyond myself, connecting with a sense of the whole, with the primary focus on either attunement with that whole or a reorientation of myself. The most common prayers for me are those of celebration and gratitude. Still figuring out how to communicate my sense of deity, which is simultaneously symbolic, particular, experienced, and amorphous.

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