Today, I was checking my Facebook during a break at Diocesan Annual Council. I read a status update from someone who shared a personal tribute to and extended a desire for prayers for a loved one. I wrote that I would be keeping her in my prayers. Within a few minutes of writing that, I bought a new chaplet of prayer beads that caught my eye. They are made of olive wood beads, and have a tree of life pendant. My personal, daily centering prayer has been focusing on roots…which I suppose is not a surprise to those who read my blog…but these simple, rustic beads seemed very fitting for this wintertide contemplation in which I have been engaging. I am reaching down deeply into the soil of my soul, finding treasures and nourishment I hadn’t realized were still part of what grounds me. I have put my new prayer beads in a place I will use, daily, keeping them close to me.
I have been doing that lately. Not just the praying, but actually saying it. Writing it. Acknowledging that I pray. Putting down the “P” word unabashedly. Reclaiming this word that I had run away from. Although praying has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, I also have avoided the word with fierce intentionality. “I will be thinking of you.” Fine, but it has always been more than that, really. “I will be sending good vibes.” Of course, but those vibes come from somewhere. They source with intentionality in my spirit, with a belief that all that which is greater than we are connects us, beckons us, reaches to us. When I sit in that space, holding those I love in my mind, caring for them and loving them in my heart with all that is within and beyond us, sending those good thoughts and positive vibes…I pray.
Maybe it was growing up a child of the 70’s, caught in rhetoric about prayer in schools or other public venues that gave the word “prayer” a distasteful, partisan flavor. Maybe it was something more noble, like the socialization in the self-determination and person centered dignity and respect of my social work training that made me temper my words, to insure that my beliefs never privilege me over any other person’s beliefs or uncertainty. Maybe it was that prayer held a very concrete meaning and purpose in my early life: intercessing, asking, directing the course of divine energy to a purpose I was instructed to believe. Prayer equated with highly specific lines of communication from the humans to the divine. Certain prayers were privileged, apparently, if answered. But some of us begged and still did not receive, so what did that say about the divine if that is what prayer meant?
Maybe that is why many of us stopped saying it. We stopped talking about praying.
But, some of us who didn’t speak of praying walked through the majesty of nature and felt the warmth of the sun touch our spirits. We breathed in and out thankful gratitude as we opened our hearts to what was offered in that moment of spiritual connection. Others of us walked quiet paths of stillness and solitude, listening. Still others heard the music of the spheres or saw the artistry of colors or words or images. We connected something within us which also enfolded us, connecting us. We tried to give other words to this experience, an attempt to make meaning for something we craved but shied away from at the same time. We engaged in patterns that were familiar, words that were comforting, rituals that gave meaning. We didn’t call it prayer. But, we prayed.
I pray in the quiet hours of morning, breathing in gratitude and hope for all that will unfold. I pray with prayer beads in my pocket or a touch-stone in my hand when no one else even knows, or needs to know. I pray when someone comes to my mind, or a familiar memory catches me off guard and makes me pause. I connect, remember, hold sacred the person or experience that chose to find me in that moment. I also pray familiar words, alone or in the company of others. I pray in liturgy. I find meaning in the tradition that connects my spiritual ancestors and I, who could only ever know each other through that ritualistic connection of human speech and divine longing. I pray with my fingers, slipping over beads. I pray with words, and images, and stillness. I prayed when I had no church, and no religion. I pray now that I am part of a community of faith, in my times of certainty and in my times of doubt. I am prayed for, for which I am grateful. And I pray.
So, if you see me and share with me a piece of your life and spirit, I may tell you that I will pray for you. And I will. I hope you will pray for me, too, in whatever way or form is meaningful for you. I take back this word, reclaim it for its simple mystery and divine promise that transcends creed, dogma, or division. We are beings of spirit, whose lives touch each other in divine and meaningful ways. I am grateful for that connection, and transformed by its divine power.
And that is why I pray.