Why We Pray
Every spiritual practice has rituals and observances. Why? To know ourselves. To honor creation. To create community. What’s at the core? Creating communion with however you think about the creator, the eternal life of all the worlds. My shortcut word for this connection is prayer.
One of my favorite poets is Rumi, who talks to and about God the way one does to a lover. With adoration, passion, and longing. With a deep and wondrous sense of the ecstatic. Holiness filled with joy.
When you meet a person who’s going to become important in your life there’s an almost electric moment of wow. Energetically it’s like how Legos feel when you press them together. That satisfying little pop into place. Held.
I think that’s why we have prayers and song. Why the words get into our bloodstream like cosmic earworms dialed to the right channel. Pulling us towards the holy like one Lego calling to another, reinforcing itself on a cellular level. Like the Sanskrit greeting Namaste, I greet the holy within you.
I assure you, I’m not that gracious if you cut me off in traffic. But I get it in theory. And think we all need to practice the grace that’s embedded in the idea of graciousness.
Anne Lamott, one of my favorite writers, wrote a lovely little book called Help Thanks Wow, three essential prayers. It’s a great distillation of when folks pray, even those who don’t often walk into a temple, mosque, or church. Those prayers said with a sincerity that ritual obedience does not always engender.
But still we gather for services, festivals, and holidays. My Lego and yours, together. Rubbing our stuck places against one another. Hearing in the off-key singing and occasional cough the complex friction of family. Learning how close we can come, and where our boundaries are. Where we love and where we don’t.
I’m always amazed when I’m reminded the heart’s a muscle. Like others it can get flaccid if you’re lazy, or dirty with plaque if you don’t feed it well. Soaring with boundless joy or aching with pain, it’s an amazing barometer of how our soul is feeling. All part of why we pray.
We talk to Spirit when we love, when we’re afraid, and when we hurt. We come as seekers. As petitioners. To receive. To bargain. To wrestle. And ultimately to accept.
A few months ago I was thinking about Elizabeth Kubler Ross’s five stages of grief. They shed light on how and when we pray. Not always in this order, but she’s pretty perceptive: Anger. Denial. Bargaining. Depression. And finally, acceptance.
Good times are easy. Hooray for blessings with bread and wine, apples and honey. Other times we’re asked go without. To fast. To learn life’s about boundaries and limits as much as access to the infinite and unconditional. Through all these times we pray. If we’re lucky, we find solace, insights, and hope.
Exercise: This week’s a great time to listen for when you pray spontaneously. Pay close attention to how you’re feeling and what you’re asking for.