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Guide: Prayer

A Guide to the Meditation Called Prayer

If you know little or nothing about prayer, this guide might help. Prayer exists in many religious and spiritual traditions. It is a form of talking meditation, whether you talk out loud or within your head. There also is "silent prayer" in which you do not use words, yet you send a message of some kind or seek communication from a Being higher or deeper than you. 

How does prayer work? A prayer is a conversation. Often it is a request for help, knowledge, peace, or whatever else you need or want from a higher being, state, or power. Sometimes it can, instead, be a prayer of thanks, or a simple sharing of one’s day, life, needs, or hopes. It also may be a ritualized saying or prayer--something repeated regularly--that helps you seek or maintain a higher, deeper, or more spiritual state of being (see also “Mantra”).

Prayer is common in all major world religions. In the major Western religions–whether Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Wicca, or the shamanistic Earth Religions (see “Pagan”), prayers tend to be with words and to focus on God or to a specific offshoot, interceder, or other representative of God.

In the major Eastern religions–Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Jainism, Shinto, Sikhism, Taoism, Zen, or the Eastern shamanistic Earth religions–prayers sometimes are with words, and sometimes are wordless with ideas, thoughts, wishes, hopes or feelings directed to God or to a form or power of God. In addition, most Buddhists do not pray to God or any other spiritual figure: rather, prayers take the form of what might be considered meditative poetry in the West, offering good thoughts for people, wondering about high qualities or states of being, or offering meditative advice.

You can use prayer whether you believe in a higher being or not. If you do, your prayers can be directed to the higher being or to some intermediary of this being. If you do not believe in a higher being, then you still may use prayer if you imagine that asking questions or looking for answers or help is similar to doing so on a search engine: you ask the question or state the problem, aim it toward a specific higher, deeper, or more pure state of being, and then meditate on what happens (see “Energy”).

Prayers using words: Prayers with words are the most common. You may use ritual words or personally designed requests. The first type, ritual prayers, exist in most religions; or you may want to create your own ritual prayers. Some ritual prayers may be quite complex and may need to be memorized over a period of time or read from a reader.

You may also use repetitive prayers with just a few ritual words: for example, you can a word or phrase: for example, “Om,” or “Hail Mary, Mother of God” (see “Mantra”). Prayers like this usually are your request for, or hope that, a higher power or state of being will stay with you, come to you, or offer guidance, peace, or some other need. When you repeat the words, they can create a deeper, higher, or more intense meditative state.

You also may use prayers with words that follow no particular ritual. Your words may be spoken out loud, or spoken in your mind, silently. Your prayer may be a specific request, it may be a request for guidance in “doing what is right” in general or in a specific situation you name; it may be a request for help for others, or a request that comes with your explanation.

Other types of conversations also are possible. For example, some parts of Judaism have a tradition in which you may argue or even wrestle with God, or show your anger at God about a situation. All of this is allowable as a personal relationship with God.

Specific answers often may not come to you in prayer, but sometimes praying helps your mind see more clearly what you can and cannot do. In addition, such prayer, if successful, may create in you a clearer, stronger, or deeper sense of being within yourself, or being right with the world. Such prayer also may give you a feeling of a stronger connection to a higher power or state of being within you or beyond you.

Wordless prayer: Still other types of prayer you practice may be wordless. Sometimes your wordless prayers can be a wordless giving of an image you may have, a memory, or a feeling. You can give it to a higher power or state of being so that the higher power or state of being can offer a suggestion or an emotional resolution.  This kind of prayer is like placing a problem, person, or hope on an inner alter, holding it there, and asking what you should do with it.

Other wordless prayers may be simply your openness or invitation to a higher power. This is much like many other forms of meditation you can practice. Still other wordless prayers can even be a giving of your feelings, love, concern, or even your emotions or physical feelings to a higher being. You may do this either as a devotion to the higher state or being, or you can offer it as a request for the higher state or being to help in some way. Again, this is much like laying something on your inner alter.

All such thoughts and acts are types of meditation. They are as respectable and useful as other forms of meditation as long as one also remains open to the results, and to new experience and states of awareness.

Centering Prayer: This is a particular method of prayer started in Christian monasteries and convents in medieval times and adopted more recently to public use, using this current name, in the twentieth century. Though it is a Christian term and movement, its practices can be applied in most religions. See "Centering Prayer" for more about its methods.



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Text © 2017-2020 by Richard Jewell

Images © 1994-2018 by Gabriel R. Jewell

First edition: 1 Sept. 2018. Second edition: 1 Sept. 2019. Free Use Policy

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