How many times have we declared someone or something “in my prayers,” as a social nicety? “Prayers” has become so abstract that in many instances, we could and often do use the word interchangeably with “wishes” or “thoughts.”
We use the word “prayer,” but we aren’t talking about praying.
Praying gets lost in the social context of prayer as we discuss who’s doing it, and how well, and why the rest of us think we get to have an opinion about it. It’s easy to confuse the line between the two.
A look at the world through mainstream media could leave you believing that prayer is a social or political issue. Watching the constant argument and public scrutiny about which things deserve prayer and in what instances prayer is appropriate or acceptable would suggest that society as a whole gets a vote in deciding what praying is and how and when it should happen.
These debates shift our focus from a personal experience and understanding of praying to the cultural implications of prayer as an abstract concept.
This shift makes “prayer” feel less like the act of having a healing embrace with a trusted friend and more like reading someone else’s Facebook post weighing the pros and cons of friendship.
If praying is real, isn’t it a truth beyond the reach and limited definitions of society, religion, and personal opinion?
If praying isn’t just a social concept used to convey positive intention, if it isn’t just a pledge of allegiance to a specific religion, if it’s something real, then what is it? What does “praying” really mean beyond the social context of “prayer?”
I would posit that praying is simply communication or connection with God. It’s a transfer of energy, intention, or understanding between whatever is “me” and whatever is “God.”
All of this pondering has prompted me to stop thinking about prayer, and to actually start praying. But I’ve stopped calling it prayer and started allowing it to reveal itself.
Because what is “prayer,” really? It’s a word in the English dictionary. A combination of sounds used as a symbol for the experience it describes. It’s just a symbol. And while symbolizing our experience with words give us the opportunity to explore abstract concepts, the symbols are only as useful as their symbolism is pure.
It’s become clear to me that the symbol for praying has lost its purity. “Prayer” is political, social, and trite, and so it starts feeling oppressive, judgmental, and limiting. But isn’t praying supposed to be the opposite of that?
To get back to praying and perceive it as it truly is, I needed a new understanding.
I considered assigning a different word to the experience, or making up a new word all together. But as time passed, language began feeling like an insufficient tool to describe communication and connection to that which extends beyond human rationalization and verbal explanation. Words aren’t enough.
After all, is God reliant on the English language? I imagine not.
So I decided to leave the limiting and insufficient verbal mind out of it all together, and pray with a different aspect of myself. I decided to start praying with intention, energy, and understanding, and I found an intimacy and comfort that was missing from my carefully worded former prayers.
The essence of a wordless prayer is difficult to describe with words. The closest I can come is, “Here… this.” I don’t pray with my mouth anymore. Instead I pray with that place deep in my chest that can wordlessly articulate deep gratitude, indescribable peace, and unconditional love. It’s the place that soars when I board a plane for a new country. It’s the place that aches when my heart gets broken. It’s the place that gets overwhelmed with gratitude by blessing and humbled by ego-shattering failure. It crafts a prayer that doesn’t get watered down and limited as my mind searches for the proper words to describe it.
I stopped trying to feel God when I pray, and started praying when I feel God. When it’s good, I give it back with gratitude. When it’s bad, I give it back for clarification.
The less time I spend speaking with God and the more time I spend feeling with God, the more sense praying makes.
There’s a Buddhist proverb that I’ve kept close to heart for a long time. It is loosely, “The hand that points to the moon is not the moon.” It’s wisdom that my verbal mind can’t quite get a hold on, but I feel its meaning in that place of wordless prayer.
I’ve found the pointing hand of prayer, and now I’m following the path to meet the moon. I’m going to rely on God to teach me about the world, rather than letting the world teach me about God.
God seems like the more reliable teacher.
What about you?
Use the comments to tell me what praying feels like to you. Hook up with Winterbritt on Facebook or join the mailing list below to get a weekly email about new posts. As always thanks for reading.