I Am Learning How to Pray
Over the last several years, I have been exploring prayer and what it means to pray. My Mother has been a most excellent teacher. Recently, I asked her to show me how she prays each morning and it was so inspiring that we invited anybody who was interested to my house to talk about prayer. My Mom shared her method which is simple and profound.
She begins daily with “Dear friend….” and shares all of the good that’s been going on in her life (gratitude) and always prays for herself first…her concerns and her worries. Then she moves on to pray for others..moving from her innermost circle outward to the entire world and it’s leaders. She keeps track of her daily practice in a journal and as the things she is praying for find resolution or “come true’, she circles them.
Her book is filled with circled answered prayers– what a beautiful reminder that what we ask for is often given. It was such an inspiring evening and others shared their practices, their struggles (Am I teaching my kids the right things?) (I need more quiet in my life) and their were some hilarious stories.
As a teenager, my friend Suzi overheard her friend’s mothers very proper Norwegian women’s farming community womens’ group in prayer, “Please God…Don’t let us be shit-asses”. Which reminds me that, above all, it’s ok to PRAY IN WHATEVER WAY FEELS GOOD TO US.
Here’s a little piece I wrote about some of the things I have learned about prayer in the past few years.
Two things everybody got tuh do fuh themselves. They got tuh go tuh God
and they got tuh find out about livin’ fuh themselves.
-Zora Neale Hurston
A question about prayer had been on my mind lately as I see the endless requests for prayers and healing for others on my Facebook feed: Please pray for my grandmother, my neighbor’s daughter, for the lady I just saw in the parking lot, my son…we don’t like his girlfriend (and wish they’d break up?). I wondered, Is it always okay to pray for others? And what about praying for specific outcomes? Could I pray without asking for a person’s permission? Ethically, in shamanic practice, I would never do any work without explicit permission.
It also seemed, to me, that if prayer was powerful, then it follows that praying for a specific outcome for someone without their permission would be tampering with their soul. Without permission, I worried, prayer could be sorcery—or at least using one’s superpowers unethically. At least, that was my working hypothesis.
Prayer became a bone of contention between Mom and me. She’s confessed, from time to time, that she’s been praying for specific outcomes for me or for my children,
“Sweetie, I’m just praying that George gets good grades just like I’m praying for a husband for Maria,” says my Mom.
“Well, that’s fine if Maria gave you permission to do that (she did) but, have you asked George?” I asked. “I just don’t think you should pray for others, at least not older adolescents and adults without their consent. What if George was supposed to experience struggle right now in school, so he could learn the lessons he needs to become who he’s meant to be?
In yoga, there’s a shorthand phrase for this active process of living fearlessly and doing our own work: “sweeping out karma.” It’s like sweeping the dirt or unwholesomeness out of your home to keep it fresh. Maybe a person may want or need to do this sweeping work for themselves. Or maybe they needed a teaching from an experience they’d had and there was no need to rush in and pray to make it all go away. Maybe the sweetness of life is in the sweeping.
Mom was exasperated. “Oh, honey, it’s just fine to pray for people. I’ve always prayed for you; I prayed for you for at least fifteen years to find a good husband.”
What about praying for the world as a whole? Or ecological systems? Presidents and world leaders? Tiny, helpless babies and children? Elephants up against poachers with AK-47s? Elderly people with dementia? Not to mention, there was so much distress in the world, it seems we could pray without ceasing. How do we balance taking time to pray for others with actively living our own lives? It seems to makes sense to pray for those who seem extremely vulnerable (babies, young children, elderly) and those without a voice, like elephants.
When I finally get around to asking Alice the Elephant about prayer, she shamelessly takes my Mother’s side. With typical pachydermal patience and grace, Alice explains, “Praying is always beautiful and it’s always OK to pray because prayer’s purpose is to help YOU feel good.” Oh the irony. It’s about getting to that place of peace and stillness. Sitting in a ceremony, months later, I suddenly realized how proud and pretentious I have been to question my Mother’s prayers. How LUCKY was I to have been the subject of her prayers for so many decades? I was also shown how many of our ancestors have been praying for all of us, for our future, the earth and for our lives. It was deeply humbling.
Months later, the spirits offer me hint on how to pray that works for me and doesn’t ever feel like meddling. This holy tipoff arrives when I desperately need to pray.
I was shifting uncomfortably on a blow up mattress next to my dear friend’s Maggie’s bed while our other friend slept alongside her. It was forty eight hours after her husband David committed suicide.
I tried to meditate …it was hard to sleep knowing Maggie hadn’t been able to get much rest at all. My heart ached for her. For her kids. Eventually, I slipped into a dream. In this dream, was shown that Maggie and each of her three high school aged children were being embraced by posses of enormous angels with gigantic and insanely soft feathered wings. A downy, divine embrace was tenderly holding each of them in their beds while they slept. I cannot emphasize how large and soft these tender wings were– like God’s extra large cashmere oven mitts.
As I walked downstairs the next morning as quietly as I could to get coffee started I noticed something I hadn’t before. It was a carved wooden angel with horn over their main entrance doorway…after that I noticed several more all over the house. Her family was clearly an angel kind of family. That image of huge angel gangs with their vast wings sweetly holding this family lingered with me….it brought me so much peace in that period that I began to apply to everything that gave me grief.
When I envision [A distressing event or suffering person(s)] embraced by the angel wings it’s a prayer – it calms me and feels like a request all at once. I use it for: ambulances screaming by me on the road, car wrecks, police officers (who encounter more suffering than the average bear), people who look like they’re in pain, people who look like they’re angry, people look like they’re out of control, my friend’s son who is struggling at school, Elephants being beaten into submission, Mark who is working long hours today and he’s exhausted, Donald Trump, ORLANDO, Syria. The enormous feathered angelic embrace has become my three-in-one prayer and meditation. This never fails to help me feel a little bit better.
Do you pray? If yes, how do you pray? Do you ever struggle with it?
If you’re local and would like to come to a future Prayers with my Mother meet-up at my house- we plan to do it again in the Spring- just send me an email- saying YES to prayers!