When you pray, are you asking for something? Being thankful for something? Celebrating something? Loving something or someone?
To whom do you direct your prayers – God? The Universe? Nature?
When I was growing up, my family went to church every Sunday. We learned prayers that we recited every week. We said Grace at every meal. But I was just parroting what my parents did. The prayers were memorized and could be said without thinking. I didn’t pay much attention to what they were about, and I certainly didn’t make up my own.
When I moved out on my own, I stopped going to church, so I stopped praying. At least I stopped the type of praying I used to do. I felt it was hypocritical for me to pray to a God I didn’t believe in. I stayed away from church for a long time. It just didn’t fit with my view of the world and our place in it.
Then I discovered Unitarian Universalism – a denomination that didn’t dictate what I had to believe and that allowed for lots of different methods of worship and prayer. I found a church and a community that lifts me up and gives me peace, that accepts my uncertainty while offering ideas to ponder.
During our weekly service, we light candles for those in our lives who are celebrating milestones or who are suffering in some way – we ask each other to “keep them in your thoughts” or to “send positive, healing energy”. We don’t often ask specifically for prayers – I think because many people in the UU church associate praying with the religion of their youth, with asking God for help when they may not believe in God. But we still want to ask someone for help. So we ask each other, hoping that the collective energy that comes from being together will help those we are thinking of.
I often think about people I know who are facing a difficult time – perhaps they are suffering from an illness or have lost a family member. Perhaps they are struggling financially or emotionally. I hold them in my heart – it almost feels like a literal and physical holding – my chest feels fuller when I am thinking of them. I “pray” for them by imagining myself wrapping them up in my arms and sharing strength. I also envision guardian angels doing the same thing – wrapping their wings around the person, shielding them from pain and sorrow.
Is this praying? Or is it only praying when the thoughts/words are directed to someone? Not everyone will feel the same way about this. It has taken me a while to figure out that, for myself, I do consider this kind of focused thought to be a form of prayer. I can pray for someone without praying to someone.
So today, I pray for:
Dad, that he may remain healthy in body, even as his mind continues to slip
Mom, that she have peace with the changes we are facing
My students, especially the one who lost her father last week
My school and its leaders, as they finalize the search for a new head
My church and its leaders, as they work to find a new minister
My family, both immediate and extended, that they continue to be well
All those who are suffering in mind, body or spirit, may they be happy, healthy and live with ease.