How We Pray

Today’s question comes from Stevie.  She writes: “Our last discussion of prayer has been on my mind. Do many people use different kinds of prayer? I, for example, often talk to God in private as if he’s an old friend–thanking him, discussing my day, asking him to keep my loved ones safe. Then there are times I just connect with Him, feeling His power and getting strength from Him, and feeling that I get messages from Him on how to do things better. Then there are times when I pray with others, feeling community. Am I weird?”

No, Stevie.  You aren’t weird at all.

One of my mentors in seminary – Rev. Jane Vennard – taught me a wonderful thing about prayer.  Jane is an ordained UCC pastor who has a ministry of spiritual direction and retreat leadership.  She was an adjunct professor at the seminary I attended (The Iliff School of Theology) and has written several books on prayer.

In the course I took with her at the end of my first year in seminary, Jane uttered a sentence I have never forgotten: “Prayer is an attitude, not an activity.”

What did she mean by that?

Lot of us think there is only one or two ways to prayer (i.e. either alone with one’s head bowed and hands clasp or in a group setting with someone leading).  While those two methods of prayer can be helpful ways for some to connection with God, they are not helpful for everyone.

Some people connect best to God in other ways.  I, for instance, connect with God best through music.  That’s why I feel closest to God participating in a musical experience (i.e. singing a Taize chorus, playing something on the piano, or singing a hymn with a congregation).  Other people feel closest to God when they are engaged physically.  A colleague of mine by the name of Doug Pagitt wrote a wonderful resource for these folks called “Body Prayer” that gives some helpful ideas for how to pray with our bodies.  Other folks connect best with God through the spiritual disciplines of meditation or mindfulness: ways of connecting with God that emphasize listening to – rather than talking at – God.

There are hundreds of ways we can pray because – using Rev. Vennard’s wisdom – what matters most is not the specific activity (or activities) that we engage in.  What matters most is the attitude we bring to the activity.  As she shared with us, even engaging in activities like washing our car or walking our dog can be a form of prayer if – as we engage in the activity –we focus our hearts on the feelings of gratitude we feel for the blessings we have been given.

Those are a few thoughts I wanted to share as today we begin this season of Lent: a time of prayer and penitence for Christians around the globe.  What about you?  What things does Stevie’s question raise for you?

About Pastor Craig

I'm a 54-year-old who lives in Los Angeles, CA with his black Labrador Retriever named Max. I'm an ordained clergy person in the United Church of Christ. My passions include spirituality, politics, and sports (Go Houston teams, go!). I use my blog to start conversations rather than merely spout my perspectives and opinions. I hope you'll post a question, comment, or observation for me to respond - so we can get the conversation started!
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4 Responses to How We Pray

  1. Beverly Marshall Saling says:

    This reminds me of a question that came up in one of my atheist groups about whether it is possible for atheists to pray. Many people who came to atheism later in life argued that they were able to achieve the same sense of well-being and connectedness via meditation, yoga, music, walking in nature, and so on that they had felt through prayer when they were still religious. Personally I wouldn’t call what we do “prayer”—there’s a significant qualitative difference between trying to connect to the natural universe and trying to connect to a supernatural being or beings, and it’s not respectful of that difference to use the same word—but I do think we can learn from the many ways religious people pray and see if some of the same methods can enhance our experience of connecting to something bigger than ourselves.

    Wish we had a good word for it, though!

  2. capete67 says:

    Beverly, I’ve had success using the word “centering” in interfaith groups with non-theists and some of my atheist friends as well. While there is a specific type of Christian prayer called Centering Prayer, I’ve found the word “centering” by itself creates room for many who feel left out by other words.

  3. Sharon says:

    Stevie, I appreciated the statement part of your question. To me, that is what prayer is. Can’t imagine why you would think that was weird. I also appreciated your reply, Craig. 😍. Good topic.

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