Knees humbled to the ground and forehead kissing the earth. Chin dropped to the chest and fingers entwined. Legs in lotus and eyes gently focused downward. What is your posture for prayer? Skylight has released the findings of the nationwide survey on prayer from a project called American Prayer Wrap.
American Prayer Wrap uncovers the methods, motivations and myriad colors of our connection with the divine.
The findings indicate that the most common places in which people pray are not in any of these postures. Can these findings open us to this beautiful truth: prayer is a part of the ordinary spaces and moments of our daily lives. Even when time is not set aside. Even when postures are not assumed. Prayer comes and lives with us, as close as our every breath.
Praying in the Shower
Surely it is not a coincidence that prayer flows easily when the water washes over us. Spiritual practices from Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Jewish, and Indigenous traditions centralize water as the source of the divine. Purifying and renewing, it is the vital energy of life itself and, as we learn from Quranic teachings, the epiphany of the divine qualities.
My children, raised in the Christian tradition, grew up alongside their best friends who were Hindu. When sleepovers began, we noticed right away the difference in our showering practices. At first it seemed like a simple difference in family preference. But as our friendship deepened and we grew to share our faith traditions, from baptisms to pujas, we thought more intentionally about the difference in our interaction with water. Our Hindu friends cleansed their body at night before going to sleep. Just as they seek to shed the maya, the illusion, that ties them to this life. We greeted the new day by immersing ourselves in the flowing water. Just as we live in the promise of life renewed. A simple cultural difference in showering habits, but perhaps a powerful reminder that although we may pray in different ways, we all seek connection to a life-giving source.
Praying in the Car
The American Prayer Wrap project finds that although 46% of people surveyed pray in their place of worship, 61% disclose that they pray in their car. How utterly symbolic of the important connection between prayer and action. Perhaps it calls to mind Henri Nouwen familiar reminder
Prayer and action … can never be seen as contradictory or mutually exclusive. Prayer without action grows into powerless pietism, and action without prayer degenerates into questionable manipulation.
When we get in our car, we are going somewhere. Certainly there are times when we drive for the sake of driving, but as part of our daily practice, more likely there is destination in sight. There are schedules and deadlines. There are routine routes and expected traffic. There are frustrations and detours. And apparently, there is prayer. Again the survey opens for us an awareness. It is in the midst of this very business that we remember. Our communication with our source, with spirit, is in the messiness of life.
Praying at Work
And ultimately prayer is in the very work that we have been called to do in this life. Of the 39% of those surveyed who attest to praying at work, it seems as if some are seeking intentional space, whereas others find prayer clinging to them as they walk throughout their day.
I visited Bryn Mawr College’s new Student Life and Wellness Building where their Religious and Spiritual Life department is located. Asheq Fazlullah, the Muslim student advisor, showed me the prayer space created in the new building with a wudu station for ablutions. They have designed the workplace with the understanding that, of course, there will be prayer during the workday. The survey graphic that illustrates the places where people are praying at work reveals the sad truth. Most workplaces do not assume that there are those who will need a place to pray during the workday.
Are the results of this survey surprising? That when we think of prayer, we situate our image in a sacred space. A presumed posture. But when we live a life of prayer that is as close as every breath, we find our sacred spaces in the ordinary workings of our lives. And we find our prayers are the gentle ways in which we make connection. May we be open in our schools, and hospitals, and offices to providing space and time and support for those whose days are lived in prayer.