Recited Prayers

Recited Prayers June 29, 2012

Here’s my nightly practice with my kids:

Now I lay me down to sleep,
And float into God’s/Goddess’ dreamy deep.
For my life my thanks I give.
To love this world, for this I live.
When I wake in the morning light,
May Goddess be with me and guide my sight.

This is my variation on the classic 18th century children’s prayer.  I use “God” with my son, because that is what he prefers, and Goddess with my daughter, because that is what she prefers.

After the prayer, we each say three things that we are thankful for.  Then we recite the blessing below:

Deep peace of the rolling wave to you
Deep peace of the blowing breeze
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you
Depp peace of the shining stars
Deep peace of the white moon to you
Deep peace of the gentle night
Deep peace, deep peace, deep peace to you.

This is my variation on a prayer by Fiona Macleod, “The Dominion of Dreams Under a Dark Star” (1895).  (I actually got this idea from a podcaster, “Darklyfey” of the (now defunct) podcast, The Dark Side of Fey, who says the blessing over her children at night.)

I also wrote this prayer for the morning, but we’ve never practiced it because we rarely wake up at the same time:

Now I wake to the morning light,
As the sun returns from the womb of night.
May my heart be filled with joy this day,
May my mind be filled with wonder this I pray,
May the beauty of the earth fill my sight,
And my soul’s path before me always be bright.

Oh, and while I’m at it, here’s the grace we sometimes say over meals:

We thank the earth in which the seed does grow;
We thank the hands that the seed did sow.

We thank the sky which gave the seed its rain;
We thank the sun whose rays yield us gain.

We thank those hands that this meal did prepare;
To live in honor of these gifts is our prayer.

My daughter especially seems to love these recited prayers and our nightly ritual.

I grew up in a religion which eschewed recited prayers as not genuine.  Prayer, as I was taught it, was a conversation with deity.  It usually followed a certain formula:

1.  “Dear Heavenly Father …”

2.  Say what you are grateful for: “Thank you for …”

3.  State what blessings you wish for: “Please bless …”

4.  “In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.”

I taught this formula to many people while I was a Mormon missionary.  Since I served in Brazil, most of the people I taught were Catholic and were completely unfamiliar with this conversational style of prayer.   While there is a certain amount of formality to public prayers, Mormons are encouraged to be even more informal and conversational in their private prayers.

There was always a part of me that had difficulty with the informality.  I think in my own mind, my conception of God emphasized the “Heavenly” over the “Father”, the transcendence over the relational, and this was probably reflected in my ambivalence about conversational prayers.  Now my conception of divinity is both more and less intimate than the God of my childhood.  The gods are both closer to me than my own eyes (Eckhart), but also much larger and much stranger than I can imagine (Sagan).  And my devotional practice reflects that now, I think.

For a long time after leaving the Mormon church, I could not pray at all.  I did not (and still do not) believe in a deity that intervenes in nature or that grants wishes or withholds blessings.  As I have slowly developed a new spiritual practice, however, I have found a place for a form of prayer.  And recited prayers have opened the door again to a practice that was lost to me.

My nightly ritual begins and ends with recited prayers, but I do leave a space in the middle for spontaneous prayer, for conversation, if I so desire.  “This is my sacred fire. This is my holy place. These are the words of my prayer …”  Most often, I do not take advantage of it, or I fill it with another recitation.  But sometimes I do express heartfelt wishes pertaining to my own spiritual development.  I pray that I may learn to love the world or that I may come to understand the mysteries of life and death.  (Not the kind of thing I expect to descend from heaven like manna.)  I have found that the recited prayers are brackets that help me create the sacred time and sacred space in which I feel comfortable to pray.  In this way, I feel like I cam honoring the mystery that is divinity, in a way that the more conversational prayers of my Mormon years never did.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • I like your prayers. I reposted your meal time blessing in the Naturalistic Pagan Yahoo group as the topic is under discussion.

  • I use both recited and improvised prayers regularly. In my regular devotional at my Isis altar, I chant a recited prayer in both English and ancient Egyptian as a means of entering a slightly altered state. Then I say a recited prayer in English that is more modern and colloquial. This provides a nice transition and mental preparation. Finally, I break into improvised prayer where I bear my heart and ask what you could call blessings. In principle, the requested blessings are things that a part of my mind could theoretically grant. For example, I would ask for courage to face a situation rather than asking for a physical intervention in that situation.

    However, I must confess I do sometimes find myself asking for “impossible” things. For example, I’ve found myself asking for courage for my wife too. It just feels natural and comforting, and it reminds me how deeply ingrained is the human tendency toward magical thinking.

    Here are the daily prayers that I’ve been experimenting with lately:

    Morning shower recitation:
    O Earth,
    I greet your fiery dawn
    And your coursing waters,
    The wind that is my breath,
    And the earth by which I stand.
    Today I am going to… (mentally prepare for the day’s events)
    It’s going to be a good day.
    So may it be.

    Meal recitation:
    O Food and Drink,
    One day I shall be the nourisher;
    Today I am the nourished.
    So may it be
    I give thanks.

    • “I chant a recited prayer in both English and ancient Egyptian as a means of entering a slightly altered state. … This provides a nice transition and mental preparation.”

      That’s how I have found the recited prayers to be useful too.

      “In principle, the requested blessings are things that a part of my mind could theoretically grant.”

      That’s pretty much all I am comfortable with as well. If I feel like taking it further, I may say “I hope …” or even “I wish …”

      I like the prayers you shared. I especially like how the meal recitation invokes an image of the cycle of life.

      • >>“In principle, the requested blessings are things that a part of my mind could theoretically grant.”
        >That’s pretty much all I am comfortable with as well. If I feel like taking it further, I may say “I hope …” or even “I wish …”

        I should confess, though, that I do often find myself going beyond the possible. For example, I may ask for courage for my wife in addition to myself. It comes natural, it’s comforting, and I don’t try to stop it, but I know it’s beyond the pale. Perhaps I should try your technique of couching it in an I statement (I hope/I wish)…

        • I don’t know that you should restrict yourself when it feels right. The rational side is what holds me back, but increasingly it has felt like more of a handicap than a strength. MJ’s idea of petitionary prayer as an “acknowledgment of the limitations of human action and will” may help me get over the mental obstacle that I have to that kind of prayer.

  • I think the place of prayer and especially petitionary prayer in naturalistic paganism is definitely a topic which needs more exploration. As B.T. comments alluded to, petitionary prayer is such a long standing part of traditional religion it may be written in our genes. I especially feel the urge to ask for Nature’s blessings for my garden, especially when anything new is added. I am not a very experienced gardener and there are so many variables, so many things that could go wrong. In some ways I see petitionary prayer as an acknowledgment of the limitations of human action and will. We can’t do it all on our own; if we are to succeed in anything we will need some cooperation from Nature. There is always an element of luck in any success. It seems to me that modern people don’t like to acknowledge this. Does prayer help secure luck? Probably not, but it makes me feel humble, reverential and thankful for all the ways that Nature has in fact been kind and generous to me. I am somewhat of an anxious person and acknowledging that it is not all up to me makes me feel more peaceful and ironically more willing to face the challenges and uncertainties of life.

    • Do we dare call that “element of luck” grace?

      • Grace is a difficult, problematic term for naturalistic pagans, but I think this “element of luck” is the same as grace. I don’t think Nature is that which can hear and choose to answer or ignore our prayers. But I wonder if prayer might make us more open to grace, more aware and appreciative of when it touches our lives. I used to be very critical of the way theists attribute all good things to God, but none of the bad. I do think it is important to remember the darker side of nature that destruction, disease, death are just as much a part of Nature as is birth, health and life, but I think we humans are healthier and happier when we put more emphasis on the good things of life, on our moments of good luck, of grace.

        • I agree about “grace” being a challenging term for Pagans. I like reclaiming words though. There needs to be a word for “bad” grace … we have “bad luck”, but as you say, God usually only gets credit for the good. It’s almost Manichean.

    • >petitionary prayer is such a long standing part of traditional religion it may be written in our genes.

      Quite possibly, to an extent. Engaging the other in dialogue activates our brain’s sociality module, and a key part of our instinctive sociality seems to be reciprocity – “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” This was recognized in the late Roman period as the basis of Classical pagan ritual, in the formulation “do ut des” or “I give so that you may give.” Not all religions are as explicitly so as Classical paganism, but it’s pretty darn universal across cultures.

  • Reblogged this on The Darkness in the Light.