Sort of sounds like a dirty word, huh?
As an escaped Christian, prayer evokes memories of mass or church or Sunday School and bedtime and dinner time and all the other times. Just rote memorization that fell on seemingly deaf ears. “Our Father who art in Heaven…” and “Now I lay me down to sleep…”
Is anyone out there? Is this thing on?!
As I’ve deepened my spirituality and practice, I have come to wonder if it would’ve seemed so futile if I had been encouraged to find my own meaning, taught deeper lessons than “memorize these specific words that are the only way you’re allowed to speak to God”, and was able to lean in to the experience.
I think what separates prayer from a poem or a song or a conversation is the intention. Just as in magick, funnily enough. The difference there, for me, is that magick has an intention to effect change in some way and prayer has the intention of devotion or communion with a deity, spirit, Other, etc.. That’s to say, certainly a poem or a song or a conversation can have that intention and become prayer (goodness, can you imagine if I tried to say song [the original devotional avenue] wasn’t actually prayer? Silly!) – but I don’t know that I would swear by the efficacy of Top Down (by Fifth Harmony) to evoke devotion to deity. Well, depending on your deity! 😉
I’ve been told that prayer can also be a conversation. Just talk to God. Tell Him about your day. That never really sat for me either. Speaking to conversations as prayer, specifically conversations with deity, I will say that I haven’t found deities I’ve interacted with to care so much about what I had for lunch that day or my complaints about the weather. Not that they don’t care about me individually, assuming I’ve done the Work to form a relationship and this isn’t a one-off interaction, but my experience shows that mundane items are really of no consequence. Talking about the deep stuff, though… now that’s where it’s at!
I’ve come to learn that not only does divinity receive prayer through the intention of your words (it doesn’t necessarily have to rhyme or be in a certain language), actions are also a form of prayer. Learning that last concept blew my fracking mind. You mean bowing your head and clasping your hands was, in and of itself, its own form of prayer?! Well sure, for a deity who values a humble servant. I felt like I had been sleep walking in my spiritual life up until that moment. Perhaps it is because of my own life experiences, but I feel that words are often said with no meaning, no real substance. Actions, for me, definitely speak louder than words. Is that Work volunteering at a homeless shelter? Perhaps it is the personal Work of growth and transformation. Do you teach classes in their Priesthood? Either way, prayer in action!
On a pilgrimage to Ireland with Land, Sea, Sky Travel in 2017 I spent some time with a trash bag and gloves cleaning up a small beach in Carlingford as a devotional prayer to Manannan Mac Lir. I didn’t actually participate in the small devotional ceremony that some of our group was performing out at the end of the pier, because I felt like I had said all I needed to say through my actions. It felt good, so I think I got it right. 🙂
I work with The Morrigan and have found that ‘action’ is exactly the type of prayer that speaks to this relationship the loudest. I get the sense She is a “skin in the game” type of deity. Don’t talk about fighting for justice, go out and protest. Don’t just promise to become Her Warrior, learn a martial art. So, I signed up for Krav Maga. Man, that was nerve wracking showing up the first night. But I meditated with Her before the first night and was filled with a lightness that can only come from a rightness of purpose. And after doing it for a few months and realizing it was too much for my body, she understood that too! Being healthy is key. You can’t be any kind of warrior if you aren’t healthy.
It doesn’t have to be anything big, though. The simplest prayers are often the loudest. Lighting a candle and sitting in silence can be a powerful prayer to support your focused intent. Perching in the prow of a boat and smiling into the sea spray sounds like a lovely way to honor and commune with any number of water deities. The point is, feeling into the true meaning of the action, both for you and your devotional target.
I think prayer is especially meaningful when it is consistent. I often pick up trash from the ground, for example, it wasn’t just something I did in Ireland. Daily prayer, like any daily practice that isn’t survival based, is often tough for me – but I do manage some level of regularity. Krav Maga was a regular prayer to The Morrigan for a few months, and now the Warrior series in any of my yoga practices takes that place. Lighting candles in the evening to enjoy their flickering light and lovely scents is an homage to Brigid, holding the light in the Darkness. Finding a way to incorporate devotion into actions that you’re already going to do, rather than feeling like you must set aside separate time outside of everything, is a great way to get started.
Perhaps you aren’t a theist and you’re wondering all this has to do with you. I have limited experience working with the Other like ancestors, spirits, the Good Neighbors, or whomever you may be interacting with, but I can’t imagine they wouldn’t appreciate an act of homage or devotion or an outpouring of love every so often. Right? Even leaving offerings is a prayer. Perhaps you worship nature without anthropomorphising it? Some ideas I brainstormed are: conservation activities, trash pick-up (there it is again, good for everything!), activism like protests or education or petitions… Mindfully engaging with any of that, setting an intention to honor the Earth as you do it, would be lovely!
If you find it unnecessary to pray or offer devotions in your spirituality, I’m sorry for having wasted your time! All I can say is that my practice has deepened significantly since I began regular devotional activities. Without prayer I found I was only doing Work when I wanted/needed something and on holy days; not unlike the atmosphere I grew up in when you only prayed to win the lotto and only lived a “Christian life” from 10 to 12 Sunday morning. Which sort of begs the question, “What have you done for Them, lately?” Ultimately I think that’s where the depth comes from – a give and take relationship, rather than a take take take relationship. In general, if this is something you struggle with in your devotional work to whatever Being(s) you work with, maybe start by looking deeper, finding that personal meaning, and really digging in, over-turning rocks of “that’s how it is” before you accept the existential futility of it all.