Does prayer have to be directed toward someone or something, or can you simply pray? And what do you imagine prayer is for, anyway?
In Mary Oliver's short poem, Praying, she writes:
It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.
In my experience, this is exactly right on. For me, prayer is about paying attention, noticing what's happening around me, with other people, even in my own heart. It's about naming, and saying outloud those things that I'm noticing and feeling. It's about being in relationship with the world in a particular way. When I pray, it's hardly ever perfect, but it's not supposed to be. It's just a doorway into thanks, into a deeper place, into silence, where another voice might speak.
When do I pray? I almost always say a short prayer before I preach...holding in a prayerful way the people who are gathering in the sanctuary and praying that I be a conduit for something larger than myself. In this way, prayer serves as a reminder...I am reminded that worship is not, ever, about me...I am reminded that people carrying hopes, dreams, and broken hearts are arriving...and they're hoping to hear something that speaks to them.
Why do I pray? Because it centers, grounds, and holds me. There's something remarkably powerful about praying with other people.
Does prayer change anything? It changes me, the one who is praying. It changes my awareness, opens my heart, helps me move toward a posture of gratitude.
Who do I pray to? Life, God, the Spirit of Life, the Source of Life, the Big Mystery...sometimes I don't address anything or anyone...I just pray words of gratitude. Prayer is not a contest and there's no right way to do it. (If you're looking for a good resource on prayer, check out Erik Wikstrom's book, Simply Pray, or listen to this sermon I preached a while back: "All About Prayer: The Lord's, Yours and Mine."
Today, I invite you to patch together a few words of prayer...they don't have to be fancy or perfect...just pay attention...and give yourself a chance to step through the doorway into thanks. And if you're up for it, dear readers, I invite you to leave your prayer or prayer requests in the comments sections.