What’s prayer for?
I have not yet been persuaded by an anthropomorphic view of divinity. You know, the concept of a kindly, bearded old man who
watches over and helps us, or a loving grandmotherly woman who embraces us tenderly when we bring our problems to her. They’re lovely images. They make me think of my grandparents. That’s a nice feeling but I can’t imagine engaging in petitionary prayer with this vision of a deity, either asking for something specific or bringing a problem to them and asking for help solving it.
I’ve always related to prayer as an awareness practice. I’ve understood from various teachers that free-form, “talking to God” type prayer is intended to change the speaker, by bringing hir into awareness of hir situation and what is needed. I’ve also understood that reading a scripted prayer functions to remind the one who reads it of hir values, and to support hir in reconnecting with them. It’s also possible that, reading the text, s/he could have insight into hir life choices noticing it comers. favourably or not, with the ideal.
I’ve participated in scripted prayer at worship services. At times, it has inspired me and, as I mentioned above, served as a wake-up call. I’ve never talked free-form to God. When I’ve considered it, I’ve always felt self-conscious. A part of me says, “What a poseur you are.” Some part of me sees doing it as somehow being insincere. Also, there’s this idea I have that there is no “personal being” “up there” anyway; what an exercise in futility that would be, talking into the void. It would be a kind of echo of my life experience as a child, a left-alone-to-cope situation. So the self-judgement comes back to insincerity and tells me it would be “just for show.” I’ve certainly never asked God for anything.
Maybe I could pray to my Nana
My thoughts come back to grandparent images. It occurs to me: maybe I could pray to my Nana.
As I consider this idea, I remember I have heard people say their dead parent or sibling or grandparent is watching over them and helps them out when they’re in trouble. I always thought it was very nice for them, and felt sad that I couldn’t imagine that for myself. As I consider it now, I think about something
I read about experiencing God’s love, by Rabbi Shefa Gold, in her commentary on Shir haShirim, the Song of Songs. “The truth of my spiritual life is that I encounter God the most clearly in these three ways: through my body and its expanding senses, through nature and its dramatic and miraculous beauty, and through intimacy with the other.” She says that every facet of life can shine with the love, through the beauty of The Beloved.
What is my dear Nana other than someone beloved to me? Sure, she’s notthe beloved, but she is a beloved. And I was beloved to her. Hmmm….
And Georg Feuerstein, on bhakti (love or devotion), says, “Bhakti is all-inclusive, shining through us and into others without qualification. It’s real “object” is the Divine, which is also its source.” This leads me to conclude that when I feel love, it is sourced from the divine spark in me (the same spark that exists in every being). When I feel love, I could say, “God is here.”
So in a way, my Nana, my experience and memories of her, her love that I feel in my body and heart right now as I write, and that moves me to tears, is making it possible, through the spark of the divine in her, for God to come to me, or for me to open to the presence of God/love that was already there and always available, that is in me, my divine spark. When I experience her love, even “just” my memories of it, I’m experiencing God.
Maybe you reached this conclusion long before I did. It’s just hitting me now that maybe people who have been saying they pray to someone who died are accessing divine energy through the metaphor or conduit of their loved one. This thought makes me cry. Like really cry, with a big sigh and warm wave that comes up from the belly and out my eyes in tears. I feel a lump in my throat and I feel a longing in my heart. I feel how much I miss my Nana. She was the most loving and affectionate person in our family. She’s been dead for at least 30 years, and yet, all my life, she has been my point of reference for what love means.
Maybe I can pray to my dear Nana. Then, because I’m bathing in the flow of that loving experience, I will no longer be alone in my questions, problems, suffering or struggles.
But what about getting an answer?
So I’ve solved part of my dilemma. I’m not alone. I am loved. Prayer, done this way, is a way of experiencing love. That feels good, like forward movement and fresh air. I don’t need a deity. My working hypothesis now is to pray to Nana and let my experience of her love for me be the conduit for experiencing God’s love, Divine love, Universal love, unconditional love. Or just plain of Love with a capital L.
But there’s still this question of answers. What about help for my problems? I pray to my Nana and feel love and that’s supposed to make it all better? Yeah, right!
As I sit with this part of me that’s clearly skeptical about this whole thing, my insides remind me of some lessons I have learned from Focusing about receiving help, wisdom and guidance. I have experienced that these “other ways of knowing” are not a process of ask-a-question-get-a-clear-direct-and-logical-answer. There are four tricks I have learned about getting “answers.” You can read about them in my next post, in two weeks.
Meantime, how have you experienced and explored prayer? How did you resolve the question of God? If you didn’t, how are you working with this whole topic? Won’t you take a moment to share in the comments below?