All sensible people pray, no matter what term they use to name what they do.
I know that the Gods exist independently of humanity and that prayer works. (That’s know, not believe.)
If you are certain that nothing divine exists and that prayer cannot work, then of course it can’t. But if you are at least willing to be openminded about the possibilities that the Gods might be real and that prayer might work, then it will.
I began crafting a morning prayer for myself during my first year of sobriety. (I do it for a mitzvah.) The overall structure has remained much the same, but the words have evolved as I have learned more. I realized a while back that I cannot use the words heaven, hell, soul, or God.
As C.S. Lewis said, heaven and hell are not places, but spiritual conditions. I think perhaps they are markers on a spectrum of spiritual conditions. Heaven refers to being consciously, even totally, in the presence of the divine, hell to being totally unable to be aware of the divine. Most of us flounder about somewhere in the middle. As Lewis also said, we fluctuate.
Soul is an obsolete concept left over from thousands of years ago. Even Herakleitos knew it was superfluous. To use it now to discuss human life is as inaccurate as trying to use the four philosophical elements to do modern chemistry.
To use the word God is to risk assuming unconsciously that the divine is anything like the obsolete concept of the tyrannical old Nobodaddy that is still used to abuse children and even adults in Sunday School. It is far safer to speak of the Gods or the Divine or almost any other equivalent term.
The morning prayer I say now usually goes something like what follows (to which I am adding commentary). I try to find a time and place where I can say it slowly, thinking (well, most of the time) about what each line means—but some mornings are rushed, of course.
Our Father and Mother, who are within us,
(I think it obvious that the Gods must be both masculine and feminine. There is wisdom in the myth that we were created to be just like them, for they are the source of our sexuality. We also know now that there can be no heaven, no Olympus, no dwelling place of the Gods somewhere upstairs in an infinite universe. The only place they can dwell is within us.)
Blessed be your names.
(Note: “thy” is singular. The Gods have no pride, which is strictly a human failing. They will come to you by whatever name you call them—as long as you call.)
May you reign in the hearts of all people, soon.
(Heart here is an obsolete guess also, but we tend to know that; so it is not so pernicious.)
Give us this day our daily bread,
(That’s a keeper; we know it means the necessities of life.)
And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
(Luke’s wording. Forgiving debts is a major mitzvah of Yom Kippur. It works. Forgiving a debt relieves me of the stress of feeling annoyed about it.)
Let us not be led into temptation
(NOT “lead”; the Greek verb is in the middle voice. The temptation, I think, is to tell a white lie, cut a corner, cheat a little, all those slippery bending of the rules)
But deliver us from evil directed at us and from being willing to harm or allow harm to come to any being.
(because evil exists only in the human heart and is always a question of intent.)
Father and Mother, your will, not mine, be done.
(Turning your life and will over to the care of your Higher Power is the root of humility, which, as C.S. Lewis said, is not being humiliated, but just knowing that you are not the one who is running the universe. Turning it over is the only real option anyone has; it is tragic how few know that.)
Help me follow the general instructions.
(We all know what they are: all those traditions about doing what is right, the middle path, what Aristotle considered to be the self-evident virtues)
Let me not feel guilty or obsessed about anything.
If you have something special in mind for me to do today, help me know what it is and be able to do it.
If there is anything I should be praying for but cannot think of it, please let me and my family and everyone I know have the benefits anyway.
Shed justice, prudence, temperance, fortitude, faith, hope, love, and all your other blessings and virtues upon us all, to keep us happy, healthy and productive for today.
Please help me stay online all day today to listen for your messages.
I don’t say “Amen,” stop praying, and go back to being non-self-aware. I try to pay attention. Sometimes a prayer is answered by a word that pops into my mind, such as Yes, No, Maybe, or Later, but more often by what happens later. Sometimes an answer is a strange thought that seems to come “out of nowhere.” Sometimes it is in the words a person blurts out, words that have nothing to do with what they have been talking about. Sometimes it’s that “funny feeling” that “Maybe I’d better not do that.” Sometimes it’s in the words of a song or a sign on a telephone pole or even in a license plate.
Is it a “miracle” that a license plate can speak to me? Don’t be childish. The message is created by how my attention is directed by the Great Mind in whom we all share, who is our interface with the divine. It creates a synchronicity, a meaningful coincidence, and the meaning is never an accident.
In practice, it is just as hard for me to maintain myself in such a virtuous state of mind as it is for anyone else. I easily get panicked these days and wanting the panic to go away does not stop it. I could never prevail by trying to confront my parents. Being reasonable never worked; so I learned to be devious. I was punished not only for acting in anger, but even for feeling angry; so I learned not to feel anger. I have never fully unlearned that skill; in fact, I become frightened if I feel angry, and the fright escalates into panic. This fear of confrontation led to my being passive aggressive. As Scott Peck said, failure to confront, when doing so is essential, is a failure to love, that is, to carry out the responsibilities that come with valuing the welfare of those I love more than my own.
The panic attacks can be severe: overwhelming sense of doom, confusion, decisionmaking as bad as when I was manic. I’ve learned some triggers to avoid; for example, I must not mentally rehearse conversations that may never happen. What helps most, though, is to say my morning prayer, focus on the fact that I have turned it over, that my life is still inherently unmanageable if I try to manage it all by myself. Saying the prayer usually calms me down, lessens the panic, restores to a semblance of clarity—and reminds that now is not the time to make an irrevocable or even risky decision.
Whatever your own problems, obsessions, personality type, however you conceive of your Higher Power, praying your own prayers can help—but you can’t have your fingers crossed. Just leap.
Try it. You’ll like it.