Maybe Prayer Isn’t What I Thought It Was

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Maybe prayer wasn’t what I thought it was.  Prayer has always been a huge part of my life, whether I was devoutly Christian or devoutly Wiccan.  You’d think I wouldn’t be discovering new insights into such a simple concept as prayer when I began my attendance of religious services at the age of six weeks, and yet…one of the best things about a spiritual journey is the discovery of new things and looking at old things when our spiritual paths circle back through the same territory.  Just what is prayer, anyway?

A recent study conducted by a sociologist at Brandeis Universityfoundthat prayers in the study fell into three categories.  Pardon my cynicism while I paraphrase:

  1.     28% — Gimme
  2.     22% — Hey, thanks
  3.     28% — Gimme and by the way, thanks

Yes, I was a little…appalled.  I’d never really thought about prayer in this way before, breaking it down into the purposes or reasons people pray.  Does prayer really equal either “I want this” or “thanks for giving me this” and that’s it?  That seems so…unspiritual to me.

My 18-year-old daughter is now majoring in psychology with minors in religion and Italian, so it’s fascinating to me to see her interpretation of many of the concepts that were bred into me.  I grew up in a household where the church doors never opened without us, and the Christian religion was a big part of our lives if not THE main part.  My daughter, the product of an atheist father and a devout-Christian-turned-Wiccan-High-Priestess-Mother, did not grow up being force-fed what she should believe.  Instead, I exposed her to different religions and belief systems so that she could understand and respect them all and make her own choices.  And one of those choices was to study religion once she went to college.

She approaches her religion classes with a freshness and with objectivity because she hasn’t been taught to believe only one way, and that leads to interesting insights for me.  There are many things that I still have trouble separating in my mind from what was programmed into me to believe by my Christian upbringing and what I discovered for myself.  My daughter does not have those particular constraints, and I enjoy her opinions on spirituality.

When I sent her a link to the study, she didn’t seem surprised by the results.  I complained that prayer then must be about talking to God, petitioning God, whereas meditation was more about listening to God and that maybe that’s why people have such a hard time learning to meditate.  She thought I was saying that it was bad to pray for requests or say thanks.

I realized through our emails that I have been seeing prayer not as a hotline for getting stuff but as “communication with God,” which made my daughter laugh.

“Haha,” she wrote. “For you, it’s communication.  Most people just see God as a higher power with more abilities than they have.  Thus something to either ask something of or thank for having what they’ve got.”

Then she followed up.  “It’s like sending a Christmas list or thank you card, not like a face-to-face or phone conversation.”

And I guess that’s the epiphany of it for me.  I don’t think of prayer as a list of demands or a quick thanks-for-the-help, though I admit that I do those sometimes, too.  For me, prayer IS a conversation–with a little talking and a little listening on both our parts.


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