What is prayer?
When life brings you to your knees, you know it is time to pray.
When life challenges you to the point that you feel overwhelmed, and you feel that absolutely no one could understand, and you just blurt it out to something, someone – something greater – asking for perspective, for help…that is prayer.
When you see a homeless woman lying in the sun, ants crawling all over her body, face and arms cracking from the sun’s rays, and your heart wells up with compassion…that feeling is prayer.
When you step outside to water a plant, feed the compost bin, check the mail, any such mundane thing, and the peace from outside gives you a moment of perspective, a deep feeling of gratitude for life itself… that feeling, that whispered “thank you” is prayer.
When you get a call that a loved one is in pain, is in need, and you go to your knees and earnestly ask All That Is for assistance, for help…that is prayer.
When you see a hawk soaring, it’s wild call shrieking to the corners of the forest, and your heart uplifts, connecting you the majesty of creation, of wildness, of freedom…that feeling is prayer.
The things that help you feel connected to something greater, the ways that you listen and talk to something outside yourself – all of these things and ways are prayer.
Anybody can pray at anytime. Prayer brings peace. Prayer brings hope. Prayer helps you hold something that felt like too much of a burden for just one being. Prayer gives perspective, inspiration, hope, and strength.
Jonathan Ellerby, author of Return to the Sacred, writes about prayer as a path to the Divine. When he went to Hawaii as a young man he met a native Hawaiian woman, Lani, and he was blessed by spending time with her and learning some of her ways. Her understanding of prayer was as follows:
A prayer begins as a feeling – a true, deep feeling – that activates the energy of your body and your mind. That feeling is like a beacon in the universe, and God will find you by it. That feeling is the voice of your spirit. What is truly in your heart of hearts, the Spirit World will always hear…
When you seek anything, you must be clear in your prayers. Be humble, grateful, and aware of the Great Spirit that is always listening. Pray thanks when you wake up. Pray thanks when you eat. Pray thanks for a beautiful day. When the day isn’t beautiful, pray thanks that you have a place to come in from the storm. Then give thanks for the rain that feeds the land. Pray when you arrive in a new place and when you leave an old one. When you need help, ask for it. Let God be your friend – talk with God. How else will God and the angels know what you intend?” ( Ellerby 107-108)
This idea that we can talk to God as a friend defies the Judeo-Christian view of God as the Supreme Being, higher than all, sitting on “his” pedestal with his white beard. This powerful, virile male god, so entrenched in much of our culture, is like Poseidon with his trident, Zeus with his ultimate power, Thor with his hammer.
But what if you could talk to the divine as a friend? What if the divine was genderless, faceless, everywhere all at once? What if we truly could connect with this power every minute of every day, receiving guidance from this higher perspective on all our major decisions?
Ellerby, in his thoughts on prayer, reaches just that conclusion. “Let your mind be in conscious contact with The Sacred throughout each and every day” (114), he says. Whether we know it or not, he says, “Each thought is a prayer, sending a signal throughout the body and to the universe about who we are and what we want to draw toward us” (Ellerby 110).
Sandra Ingerman, noted shamanic teacher and practitioner, teaches this same concept. She says,
Words and thought forms create a vibration that goes far into the universe, creating musical notes. We need to look at whether we send out harmonious notes into the universe, which in turn create harmony, or whether we send our disharmonious notes, creating chaos and illness. We call down the powers of the divine and call into being with our words. (Ingerman 204)
“For example,” she continues, “if you say that you are not good enough or if you believe you are not worthy, your words are out of harmony with divine creation” (204). Remember your self-worth! Remember your divinity. Prayer is that connection through which divine energy may travel.
Ellerby reinforces this concept when he says, “As we become clearer in our prayers, we become clearer in who we are, and our whole being begins to radiate the energy we seek” (109). While we may be praying for goodness, for compassion, for perspective, what we don’t always realize is that we are becoming the things for which we are praying. Likewise, we are becoming the things about which we think. Prayer could be thought of as intentional thinking, with a spiritual listener that allows us to stay focused. “With a Higher Power, with The Sacred, we discover ourselves and build a relationship as we pray” (Ellerby 109).
Noted author and physicist Gregg Braden comments on the power of prayer in terms of energy, as well. He tells a story of traveling to the far reaches of Tibet to talk with the monks who meditate and pray in such powerful ways. Why do you chant, he asked, and why do you ring the bells in such ritualized way at times of prayer? Their answer was simple: the rituals, the singing, the bells, the chanting – all of it was done in order to create the feeling needed for prayer. What they were telling him is that the feeling they create through prayer by the ritual surrounding it is the key to the power of it all.
Hence, Braden teaches, “Don’t pray for peace, as if it will always exist in the future. Pray peace. Feel and be its energy now” (quoted in Ellerby 109).
Kahlil Gibran, philosopher and poet, expresses this in a beautiful way:
I cannot teach you to pray in words…and I cannot teach you the prayer of the seas and the forests and the mountains…but you who are born of the mountains and the forests and the seas can find their prayer in your heart
And if you but listen in the stillness of the night you shall hear them saying in silence,
“Our God, who art our winged self, it is thy will in us that willeth.”
Gibran’s words make sense when you think of the Divine as the life force itself. “It is thy will in us that willeth,” Gibran says. It is the life force, the breath of life, the essence of being that wills us to be, to do the things we need to do to live, and that gives us such joy in life itself. Sandra Ingerman explains:
In The Healing Path of Prayer, Ron Roth writes that the Aramaic word for God is Alaha, from which were derived the Arabic Allah and the Hebrew Elohim. Roth says that Alaha means “essence” or “substance of all being,” as well as “breath” or “life force.” (Ingerman 24)
So, one could think of prayer as finding a way to manifest the most powerful feeling of aliveness, of gratitude, of surrender – of creating the rituals and saying the words that bring you to that place alignment. Ellerby notes, “Prayer as a spiritual path isn’t about getting what you want, but about learning to love and bless the world as it is…Your greatest prayers manifest when you learn to align yourself with the will of The Sacred” (113). It seems much like the famous serenity prayer. He continues, “Prayer as a path and practice refines the mind and helps us take accountability for what we create, while learning to surrender our desire to control the things we never could” (110).
Caroline Myss, noted spiritual author and teacher, reminds us of the serenity prayer as well when she comments that the two prayers that most helped change her life during a trying period were the following:
I detach as I pray. I put my soul in God’s hands to serve only good in this situation that I feel powerless to change.
Let my soul go where I cannot go and let my soul go only with God. (102)
This idea of surrender is powerful and in opposition to petitionary prayer, where we ask for favors. Ingerman notes that Ron Roth teaches that prayer is of this form:
He says the purpose of prayer is to create, maintain, and nurture a relationship with God and the divine rather than to ask for something. With prayer comes the awareness that with each breath we breathe the divine into ourselves. Using prayer in this way is a beautiful and potent way of staying connected to and merging with the creator, the divine presence in our lives. (24)
Yet Ingerman notes that it’s important not to surrender to the point of passivity. “Yes we want to pray for divine will to be done,” she says; “it’s important to align ourselves with a higher power. But the bottom line is that our thoughts are constantly creating much of what we perceive and ultimately become” (112).
So prayer is an alignment, an energy, a connection to the Divine – but the important thing to remember is that the connection is always on! Our thoughts are prayers. Our actions are prayers. Certainly intentional, ritualized prayer that creates the all-important feeling of connection is powerful – but our everyday thoughts and actions are not negligible. Ingerman believes that the power we may wield through this sort of conscious living could change our impact on the earth itself. “To heal the earth through transmutation,” she says, “you must speak to yourself and others with words that create a vibration of love, harmony, and union with the divine. With words you can decree that pollution be reversed” (Ingerman 205).
Again, Gibran touches on this most powerful idea of transformation and human connection that comes through our individual connection with the divine through prayer: “For what is prayer but the expansion of yourself into the living ether? When you pray you rise to meet in the air those who are praying at that very hour, and whom save in prayer you may not meet.”
Let us of like-minds meet more and more often as we connect with spirit. Let us unite in this transformative way and through our words, our thoughts, our actions, and our intentional prayers be agents of change, be aligned with the Divine, and find and live our individual highest purpose as well as fulfill the highest role of our human species here on the earth. Many are waiting for us to change, and the more of us who engage in this path of prayer, the bigger is the bridge to harmony.
Let us pray.
References (incomplete citations – publishing place and date forthcoming):
Ellerby, Jonathan. Return to the Sacred.
Gibran, Kahlil. The Prophet.
Ingerman, Sandra. Medicine for the Earth.
Myss, Caroline. The Interior Castle.