This month we will explore the spiritual practice of prayer. Prayer can be tricky for Unitarian Universalists, if you don’t have an experience of God, then to whom are you praying? We’ll look at different ways to understand prayer – as gratitude, as listening – as we try this ancient practice.
Prayer is traditionally understood as a petition to God, a request for help from a deity. If you don’t believe in a God that intervenes in the world, then what does praying to God mean? What does it mean for atheists and others who have a different sense of divinity? For some, prayer is a way to relate to the greater whole, a way to connect to that which is beyond us. It is about being in relationship with the sacred, not whether the sacred will answer. Poet Czeslaw Milosz in his poem On Prayer describes prayer as a bridge:
You ask me how to pray to someone who is not.
All I know is that prayer constructs a velvet bridge
And walking it we are aloft, as on a springboard,
Above landscapes the color of ripe gold…
I like this sense of prayer lifting us up. Some people who pray regularly feel a sense of lightness, of openness. We must each decide for ourselves whether prayer is a meaningful exercise, and to whom we might direct our prayers. There is no one answer. Many UUs who pray don’t think of their prayers as being directed towards a Being, but to the Universe or to all beings. Others use terms such as Spirit of Life to enlarge their understanding of God.
Through out this month, consider who or what you might be praying to, but try to take a few moments each day to pray. It may be the practice itself reveals the relationship. I won’t be offering written prayers to be recited, but encouraging you to take some time to think/feel/be each day, with your own words or even in silence.
Prayer as Gratitude
Gratitude as prayer is as simple as the words “thank you”. Gratitude as a daily practice comes easily to Unitarian Universalists, it has even been argued that our theology is based on an ethic of gratitude.
For this week, our practice is to name our gratitude in prayer. Rather than writing down what we are grateful for, or posting it to facebook, take some time to sit with gratitude.
If ritual helps you move into a more spiritual mode, light a candle before beginning, and end by extinguishing the light.
Sit comfortably and close your eyes. What made you thankful today? What should have made you thankful, but you were too busy to notice? What was difficult but ended with something positive? Sit with your gratitude until you feel you have acknowledged everything you are thankful for.
You might be directing your gratitude towards God (thank you God), or to the people or creatures or land itself (thank you first robin of spring), or you may be letting your gratitude out into the world without a particular direction (I’m grateful for sunshine). Experiment and see what feels right.
End with a final thank you, or an Amen, or another word or phrase that reflects your spirituality.
Try to do this practice daily for the next week.