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Prayer as it appears in Appendix B of “Rules for Engaging Grief”

Posted on Wednesday, March 15th, 2017


            Prayer. How simple a word.  How universal its appeal. Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Shinto, Sufi, Jew, Buddhist, Native American, and most people conclude that there is a creator, Supreme Being, or collections of gods which intervene(s) in the universe and in their lives. Prayer in its broadest application is a response to and an acknowledgement of the Supreme Being. Through prayer people attempt to interrupt the deity’s interference in their lives, redirect or attract His interest, or achieve union with Him.

            In prayer, we beg the Supreme Being’s assistance to overcome life’s daily trials, sustenance to keep us and those around us healthy, wisdom to deepen our understanding of the life and death experience, solace to comfort us in our grief, happiness to relieve us in times of trial, power to overcome the adversary, forgiveness to bring healing to mind and body, and encouragement on life’s journey.

      We also pray, perhaps less frequently or intently, to offer praise and thanksgiving to the Supreme Being for the bounty and harmony He promotes. Perhaps, less frequently still, our prayer is the mind-less and emotion-less state of being through meditation – there, to be present to and in this creative force.

      Prayer, in all its varied manifestations and variations, is our assertion of the creator.  We are also revealing an impulse – bringing into consciousness a deep, inexplicable, but wholly natural desire – to be in touch with Him. No one by virtue of position, wealth, or education is excluded from the practice of prayer or awareness of the Creator.  Indeed, such characteristics, and the activity and pride such sometimes connote, may do more than anything to inhibit the resonance and depth of our prayer, and to dim the inner glow which sparks our prayer – sometimes referred to as grace.

      Prayer is not limited to the words memorized in youth.  Though, there are times when the heart is so troubled and the mind so distracted that this form of prayer provides the thread leading back to the prayer’s inspiration.  The repetition of such prayers may also serve to neutralize an over-active mind, which may be more intent on solving life’s daily problems than probing the inner recesses of the heart.

      We also pray spontaneously as thoughts and emotions prompt us. We can be alone for such prayer or in an intimate, sharing group.  Such prayer is marked by our personalized, honest responses to life’s tragic, joyful, perplexing events.

      Prayer is reaching out, or in, to the creator.  I once believed that it was I who was initiating contact with the Supreme Being, be it through traditional prayer or through meditation. I am now more aware of our unity with Him. The impulse to pray reflects that unity.

     Sometimes, we “do prayer”, and sometimes, our prayer is in the aspect of listening – in “being” – as in meditation where we assume the presence of the divinity for Himself. By “doing”, we seek to achieve or confirm the line to the creator.  We want reassurance that what we are doing has value; the message is received, the prayer is answered, the presence of the divine is real and God wants our prayers even though He already knows our thoughts because it is then that we are closest to Him.

      The active and doing forms of prayer have a time and space dimension that contributes to us reaching outside to the divine entity which we imagine inaccurately to be apart from us. Time and space, while accurately depicting how our mind works, limit the dynamism and creative energy of our prayer.  Time and space connote linear and consecutive-event mind processes.  Our prayer need not be so limited.

      Sometimes, when I pray, I wonder if I am invoking the assistance of the troll in the fairy tale, who lurked in the waters beneath the footbridge, or shouting, crying, or laughing into a deep well and what I hear is only the echo of my soul, as Satan would have me believe.

      Yet, prayer is so natural.  It is like the breath that fills our lungs.  It is our dance with the creator during which we are enriched, entwined, enmeshed, and become one, with and in the divine.

        As a nine year old I remember being aware of the creator’s presence, and prayer then was the innocent chatter of a child.  In high school, prayer was participating in the mystery of the ancient liturgy of the Roman mass, in saying a rosary and chanting a litany, or following the Stations of the Cross, the symbolic rendering of Christ’s journey to Golgotha and his crucifixion.  Carved in my memory are the stations, actually wooden tablets with the consecutive scenes depicted, nailed to the trees along a mountain path on the grounds of a spiritual retreat house in upstate New York.

      As I grew older still, prayer became the quiet time in a chapel exploring in whispers life and its choices, church attendance, membership in prayer groups, or personal reflection prompted by an insight or a reading which I jotted down in a journal.

      Now, I find myself attracted back to prayer which more and more resembles that early childlike awareness of the nine year old minus much of the chatter.  My awareness of my surroundings has heightened through prayer. Through meditation which begins my day, I become alert to the creator’s presence which continues all through the day.[1].  Following the meditation, the being in prayer, I focus my mind-heart on family, friends, and strangers whose plight has come to my attention.  Regarding trials and sufferings, I do not prompt the creator, as I once did, with solutions, but rather accept the harmony, union, and love the creator represents for me.

     I do similarly as I focus on the ills of the universe – civil war, famine, man-made ecological disasters, and the like. I direct my prayer accordingly, again, offering no solution, but ask that harmony to the planet be restored.  Such prayer is not bounded by intellectual or emotional development, but emerges from the interior reaches of the soul.

      I do not limit my prayer to the perceived ills of the universe.  I also give thanks for the blessings which surround me, most immediately in family, friends, health, nature, and job.  The list grows as I cultivate a perception of the good which envelops me.

      There is another aspect of prayer which is responsive.  It is listening to the plights, aspirations, and joys of those around me.  While not a text-book definition of prayer, such occasions are genuine community, participatory prayers – individual souls linked in wonder, concern, sorrow, fear, or any of the emotions which our mortal life on earth generates.  Such prayer reminds me of the portion of the Catholic mass, the Prayer of the Faithful, when the prayer or intention is read and the congregation responds: “Lord, hear our prayer.”  Only now, the prayer becomes personalized.  I know and am able to relate to the individual.

      Prayer is powerful. When I observe the results from prayer, my first inclination is to attribute the change to chance, circumstances, or fate. This is so whether it be headline news or a quiet restoration of calm in a family racked with its daily chaos. Once I recognize the limits of the rational mind, I notice a sea of inter-linking energies flowing through the universe.  These energies represent the creative force or Holy Spirit in whose union we exist.  Our prayers reflect that union.

      Therefore, when I consider the unexpected turn of world events, like the dissolution of the Soviet Union; or the unfathomable influence of individuals outside the established power structure, such as a Mahatma Gandhi or a Martin Luther King; or our growing awareness and response to ecological issues, like the destruction of rain forests, acid rain, and global warming; or the remission of a fatal disease in someone I know – I seek the cause.

      Without a logical explanation available, I conclude that prayer is responsible.  Prayer is to harmony as cause is to effect. Harmony flows with and from the Supreme Being. In union with Him, we release inestimable energy through our prayers.  The result is the harmony restored and promoted in the universe.  And we participate in and share that fulfilling, “becoming” process.

      It is because the link between a prayer uttered in silence and the answer to the prayer is impossible to establish beyond doubt that prayer remains mysterious.  In the turmoil, confusion, and chaos, of this world can it be that somewhere – nestled between the fourth rib below the heart, behind the forehead, or perhaps not confined by the body at all – resides within all of us union to the Supreme Being?

      In prayer we manifest that union; we discover that union; we give birth to that union.  Spiritual development is not recovering what was lost – as in the Garden of Eden mythology – but rather becoming conscious of what is and is to be.  Prayer is a sign that acknowledges union with the Supreme Being and creative force of the universe.

Afterwards, however, my prayer life took on a chaotic quality, in a sense more spontaneous and varied.  For some reason, I am reminded how I sought control as a father, and let go as a grandfather dealing with children.  No longer do I measure output by input, rather I leave it to chance – or is that faith, maybe belief?  Everything is on schedule

[1] We are urged to pray unceasingly in 1 Thessalonians 5:18

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