This is the second in an occasional series on spiritual practice techniques, and will be part of my presentation tomorrow at the DFW Pagan Pride Day.
The practice of prayer has somewhat of a uneven reputation in the Unitarian Universalist and Pagan communities. Some of us doubt the efficacy of prayer. Others have been turned off by supposedly spiritual people whose prayers resemble the Christmas list of a four-year-old, by those who pray for the harm of their political opponents, and by those who pray only when they find themselves in trouble.
Most of these are criticisms not of prayer itself but of how we choose to pray. There are at least three forms of prayer that are always valid and always helpful in our attempts to develop a deeper spiritual practice and a more meaningful life.
The first is the expression of gratitude. The Christian mystic Meister Eckhart said “If the only prayer you said in your entire life was ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.” Those of us who honor the Goddess and God know who we’re thanking, but even the non-theists among us recognize that we enjoy much we did not earn. Offering our gratitude reminds us we owe much to our families and communities, to our ancestors and predecessors, to those who grow our food and to the natural world in which we all live and breathe. It also reminds us to “count our blessings” and to recognize that no matter how difficult any given day may have been, we still enjoy much. It did not have to be this way, but it is, and for that we can be thankful.
The second is the expression of devotion. I like Isaac Bonewits’ comparison of the gods and goddesses of our ancestors to our aunts and uncles: if we talk to them on a regular basis they’re more likely to help us out when we’re in a bind than if we ignore them for weeks and months and only pray to them when we want something. And like our human aunts and uncles, there are some deities we simply like being around and like talking to. But again, you need not be a polytheist – or a theist of any kind – to express your love for that which is greater than we are: justice, compassion, truth, and life itself.
The third is the expression of the desires of our hearts. What do you want most in life? What will truly bring you satisfaction? If you really think – meditate, contemplate – about what is most important to you, then the “Goddess gimme” prayers will fall away and will be replaced by matters of ultimate importance.
Prayer has been an important and fulfilling spiritual practice for thousands of years. Don’t let some people’s bad examples keep you from incorporating it into your own practice.