Archive for November, 2008

Prayer is Listening

You may have heard that prayer is when we speak and meditation is when we listen. A long time ago, when I first heard that truism, it seemed right enough and I took it for what it was. Over time, however, as my practice and connection to deity deepened, it became clear to me that putting prayer and meditation into those terms was really an oversimplification.

Stillness and Silence

Meditation is about mindfulness. It is an opportunity to slow down, to be relaxed and alert, and to create space within ourselves in which we can just be. When I was younger, my “meditation” involved visions and communication with gods and visualizations designed to clear me of negativity. All of these things are good and helpful, but I wish we’d call them what they are instead of lumping them all under the catch-all category of “meditation.” Sometimes even now my meditation sessions are hijacked when one of my allies has something pressing to get across – but that’s usually because I haven’t given myself adequate time for listening and my guides jump at the first quiet moment I get. But for the most part, meditation, for me, is about cultivating stillness and silence. I wouldn’t call cultivating silence “listening.”

Tuning In

The other part of this prayer : talking :: meditation : listening analogy is the explicit assumption that prayer is all about getting our little thoughts up into some big ears. This may be true on the surface, and it’s undoubtedly how most people approach prayer. But if we are praying properly, something deeper is going on.

At the heart of prayer, if we don’t make our prayers out of greed or hate, is the desire to come into alignment with deity. Grant me your wisdom! your love! your prosperity! your compassion! The words or actions of the prayer are only important inasmuch as they relay to our bodies, hearts, and minds which aspect(s) of deity we want to accept into us. A prayer, felt fully, is not about transmitting our desires to the gods. It is about tuning in to our gods bringing our desires into alignment with theirs.

Prayer is listening. The best form of listening is active listening, which involves two-way communication. Your lips may be speaking pre-written or impromptu words, and your fingers may be clicking away at mala beads, and your brain may be focusing intently on what it is you’re asking for, and your heart may be filled with love or reverence or gratitude or need. In other words, you may be talking an awful lot. But if it’s a true prayer, all of that talking is only a means to tune in so that you become receptive to divine will and purpose.

As an example, let’s look at a very famous prayer.say_your_prayers

Our Father, who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever.

This is such an excellent example of a prayer designed to bring the supplicant into alignment with their god. Taken in pieces, it could also be read this way:

Our Father, who art in heaven: Dear God,
Hallowed be thy Name: I come to you in reverence and awe.
Thy kingdom come. They will be done, On earth as it is in heaven: Align me with your Will and  your Purpose.
Give us this day our daily bread: Continue to care for me, as you always have.
And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive those who trespass against us. Look favorably upon me, for I have done what is right.
And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil. May I live in a way which honors you.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen. Everything I do is for you, towards your ends.

Desperate Times…

Perhaps you’ve heard a story or two about prayers offered in desperation which are answered quickly and definitively. Desperation, by the way, flies in the face of good magical practice. By focusing on the problem or the need, we will create more of it.* Well, good thing prayer and magic aren’t the same thing! Anyone who says that “spells are just our form of prayers” either hasn’t looked very carefully into the matter or is trying to downplay the significance of magic in their religion to placate the masses. If they were the same thing, desperate prayers would never be answered.

Why are these types of prayers seemingly answered more readily than others? Because when you are down and out, when you’ve tried everything there is to try, when you have nowhere else to turn, you are much more likely to actually be willing to “try anything” and give in to the will of deity. So often we pray for this and that, whether it’s health or money or wisdom, and then we don’t change to allow that gift into our life. We fight our own prayers. We deny our own requests! At that point, we’re just talking, and we’re forgetting to listen. But if we’re desperate, we may just get out of the way. “I’ll do anything!” Even give up a little ego so I can step aside and finally accept the help I’ve been asking for all along.

If we acknowledge our prayers from the start as attempts at listening, perhaps we won’t have to wait until we’ve hit rock bottom to allow them to be answered. If our prayers extend not just outward beyond our lips but also inward, resonating within our very cells, perhaps we will be able to release our stranglehold on our lives and allow ourselves to come into alignment with a higher intelligence, a deeper wisdom, or a more holistic mode of thinking.


Having said all of this, I would like to add that taking time to just sit and listen is equally important as prayer (active listening) and meditation (cultivating stillness). Maybe it’s time we add listening to our checklist of foundational practices and allow meditation to stand in its own right.

In closing, let me offer one more prayer. You may address it to whomever you see fit.

Beloved one,
who gives me strength and beauty and joy,
walk with me this day
and teach me to be as you.
I open myself to your wisdom.
Make me wise.
I open myself to your power.
Make me strong.
And when I shall learn that final lesson,
may my life have been lived as you would have lived it.
Make me ready.
Make me able.
Make me yours.
Blessed be.

*To be clear: No, I don’t subscribe to the tenets of The Secret and I don’t think the law of attraction is a total and adequate summation of the mechanics of magic.

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Prayer of the Day

I honor the light and the beauty.

I honor the darkness and the shadow.

May I be the ever-changing balance between them.

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