Tuesday, January 30, 2007

On prayer

it's been a long time since I've done a meme, but when I found this one, I thought it was a good idea. My mind seems to be empty of everything but irritation and confusion, and I thought this one might actually help me refocus and become something other than a snarling beast.

1. Do you pray/meditate? Which? How often?

I do both. The distinction is subtle, but meditation is a conscious effort to connect with my own spirit, and prayer is a connection and communication with God. One can lead to the other, but the intent when I begin determines the difference.

2. Why is it that you pray and/or meditate?

I pray because I hunger to know God and for God to know me better. The last sounds rather silly, even to me. In my beliefs, God knows me deeply, intimately and more than I know myself, but in prayer, I choose to open myself to God. It's an invitation to the Almighty that I want the divine presence in my life, more than just accepting that God is here anyway. The best prayers for me are those where I am able to listen to the Holy Spirit, where my own mind and spirit are calm and free enough from self that I am consciously, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually aware of God's engagement with me. I meditate to calm and center myself, to let the chaff thrown off by my churning thoughts settle and let what's important take center stage. With my associative, tangential, cluttered mind, this isn't always easy.

3. Is there a place/setting/time in which you are more likely to pray and/or meditate?

I pretty much pray everywhere, but I reserve deeper, longer prayer and meditation for some place where I can be private and physically comfortable.

4. Do you use any physical objects to assist your prayer/meditation?

There are times when I will begin my prayers with a rosary, even though I'm Protestant. The incantatory rhythm, the repetition and the reminder that God has chosen a rather insignificant female for a glorious responsibility help me enter a calm and open state of mind. Since repeating the Apostle's Creed is no longer part of my regular corporate worship, the effort to remember it and the prayer following the rosary keep my mind alert as well as open. In prayer and meditation both, I like to begin with lighting a candle. The gentle beauty of the flame and the fragrance of the wax (and the incense or scented oil I sometimes use) help create an atmosphere that feels sacred and intentional. If the candle is still burning after I've finished my prayers, seeing it will remind me of my time with God and what we shared.

5. Are you most likely to use established prayers/meditations, or to create your own style?

The bulk of my prayers are simply conversations. Some are a mute pouring out of my soul. Some have been yelled in frustration and rage. I see most established prayers, those written by somebody else, as a starting point, almost a tool to help me be able to truly pray. In meditation, I follow my own process of directed relaxation and mental imagery to help me blow away all the interrupting thoughts.

6. Are you more likely to pray/meditate alone or in a group?

Meditation is strictly a private thing. I can't even begin to imagine myself being able to focus inward enough to truly meditate if I were a part of a group. Though I love my private prayer time, group prayer is truly something special. The energy can be palpable when people share a common love, desire and intent in communication with God. There are times in group prayer when the direction and way to God feel clearer and more direct than in my private, rather meandering prayers.

7. Have you ever asked anyone to pray/meditate on your behalf? If yes, and you are comfortable sharing that experience, please do.

Yes, I do ask people to pray for me. The reminder that people care enough to intercede for me reminds me that people love me, and that's always good.

In the south, Wednesday night church services are common, and they are usually called prayer services. In most churches though, they are just a typical church service with an opening and closing prayer, a few songs and a sermon. My church has a Wednesday prayer service that is all prayer. It begins with songs of praise, followed by a time of silent prayer. After that, we form a group where people share individual concerns and moments of joy. Some of these become the focus of a group prayer.

When I first went, I was surprised, even a bit put off, because people would actually "lay on hands," which is simply the act of touching a person while you pray for them. Though I'm physically affectionate and hug my friends freely, this was an experience for which I was unprepared. It was just so "charismatic" for someone with my Southern Baptist raising. It took me awhile before I could bring myself to do more than just hold hands with someone while I prayed with them. It took longer before I could let myself be the subject of prayers while my friends touched me.

The experience was powerful and difficult to describe. I felt vulnerable in the sense that I was definitely open to what could happen and also in the sense that I felt weak and in need. I could feel the warmth of the nearness of my friends, their hands on my head, my arms, one friend kneeling in front of me holding my hands. I could feel their individual pulses and feel them take on the same beat. There was a warmth that went beyond our physical closeness, a kind of internal flush. This wasn't a dramatic, noisy, flamboyant moment. It was quiet and deeply intimate. Our prayer was for healing.

I have an illness that's classified as an orphan disease, which just means that it's unusual enough to not make it a profitable focus for research for its treatment.
Hidradenitis suppurativa is chronic, incurable and progressive. At the time of that prayer, I was in a state of constant flare ups that were affecting my ability to function on a daily basis. This illness became a problem in my twenties, and for close to twenty years, I had not gone more than a couple of weeks without it asserting itself. This group prayer was almost a year ago. Since then, I've had only a couple of very minor episodes, as opposed to new lesions appearing almost daily. Periods of remission are known to happen with this illness, but I've never had such extended relief. Do I believe that God has healed me, and that prayer had its part in it? As a blogging friend, Christina pointed out to me, healing takes many forms, including the slowing of an illness progression. And yes, I believe God did bless me with this ease and that S/he heard our prayers.

8. If asked to describe your religious affiliation/practice/ belief, how would you do that?

I'm a Christian, and after years of searching, find myself a member of a non-denominational church.

9. What would you like to say about prayer/meditation that has not been asked here?

I would be a lesser person without it. In fact, just by making myself think about prayer, the snarling beast within seems to have gone back into its cave.

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Blogger Gannet Girl said...

This is a wonderful entry, Cynthia. LOts to think about. I'm not sure I want to be so self-exposed online, but I am doing a presentation on prayer in a few weeks so I expect I'll be exploring it, too.

January 30, 2007 7:12 AM  
Blogger alto artist said...

Thank you for sharing all this. I especially resonated with your answer about wanting to know God, and God us...that really says it all about why we want, and need, to pray.


February 04, 2007 7:58 AM  

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