IS PRAYER STILL A THING?

Someone asked me a while back if I still pray since I don’t believe in God. One would think that I don’t pray. After all, it’s a religious thing isn’t it? But the fact is, that I do pray. I still pray a lot. It’s just that my notion of what God is has changed so much since my youth, that I don’t want to equate it with the God of the Bible or of the Roman Catholic Church in which I was raised.

I don’t see God is a magician who makes things appear and disappear. I don’t treat him as my last hope, turning to prayer when it seems that there’s no way out of an impossible situation. Nor do I see God as some sort of a Santa Claus who has lists upon lists of who is naughty and nice. God doesn’t measure my ‘faith’, nor are my petitions granted only if I attain a certain level of devotion. God is not Facebook and doesn’t respond to the number of likes he gets.

My understanding of a “Higher Power” has changed over the years and I believe that trying to define God, puts limits on whatever “It” happens to be. Sufficient to say that as long as my “God” doesn’t stare back at me when I look in the mirror each morning, I’m good. So if I don’t pray to God, then why would I pray?

The function of Prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.” Søren Kierkegaard.

Recovery literature says that if you have anger toward someone, to pray for them every night for two weeks. This same literature says that whenever we are disturbed, no matter what the cause, we need to look at ourselves for the cause of our disturbance. Finally it says that we cannot control people, places or things; our response to something is the only thing that we can control. In a nut shell: I am the one who needs to change and I pray in order to make that change. When I take the focus off of the other person, the offense or a need, I open myself up to change. I would have a small god indeed if he needed my help to influence his actions.

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I pray because prayer changes me. Whether it’s rote prayer, meditation, or contemplation, when I pray I move away from my Ego-centrism. Slowly I begin to focus, even just for a second, on the present moment and my connection to something other than myself. It doesn’t matter if I call it my spiritual nature, or my connection with others; prayer takes me away from, well, me. When I do that, when I step away from myself I start to see things for another perspective and that opens me up, little by little, to make a change, a change in me. So, yes, I do pray. I pray for understanding and I pray to accept things as they are.

Prayer allows me to step away from the world around me and quiet my mind for a moment from the challenges I face each day. In these moments I can unite my mind and my heart in a moment of peace. I can do this at a church or temple, by a stream or ocean, in a chair or on a cushion. The how is not important. Being present in the moment and being one with one’s self is prayer however you do it.

I don’t need a Biblical God in order to accomplish this. I only need to acknowledge that I am not the “be all and end all of everything.” In prayer, I connect to the “Spirit of the Universe” or “Higher Power” which more closely aligns with my current understanding of God. This also connects me and keeps me conscious of other people as well. And that, for me, is prayer.

Awakening

I’ve spent a lot of my life wanting and trying to have the ultimate spiritual experience. You know, that mountain top experience where you become one with everything and everything makes perfect sense. A glimpse at the bliss of Seventh Heaven or the special touch of an angel; an experience that would forever alter my existence. It still eludes me.

I know I am not alone. Most of us would like this type of experience that we sometimes read about or have recounted to us. Some gurus tell us that if only we would go to this place,  sit this way and chant this ancient saying, it will magically happen to us. If it were true we would all be in a floating bliss. I think the only thing that would help me achieve it would probably give me the munchies, so I’m not going to try that.  The thing about those “mountain top experiences” is we don’t live on the mountain top. We have to come down and continue our lives. Gradually the electric current that lit up our minds begins to fade and we long for another ‘fix’ to connect with the Universe.

What I have experienced however, is the spiritual awakening of the educational variety. It’s one that gradually pervades my body, mind and spirit. Through working the twelve steps of recovery I have had a spiritual awakening that we hear about in Step Twelve. It started with the realization that it’s not all about me and continues through living the steps. I am constantly growing in contact with Consciousness, or whatever you wish to call your Higher Power. For me, the steady growth in awareness doesn’t carry with it the need for a regular fill up. The steady drip by drip of awareness allows me to take in what I need in smaller increments so that I can understand and internalize the whole process better.

I’ve learned that the slower I learn things, the deeper it can penetrate and the easier I can incorporate it into my day to day life. It’s like those times when folks make a whole pile of New Year’s Resolutions. Once one goes by the wayside, it’s very easy for the others to slip off as well. But if we make just one that we are truly committed to, then there’s a far better chance that we will create a new habit that will last a lifetime. Slow and steady she goes.

pexels-photo-312839.jpegWorking drip by drip to increase my awareness I become more aware as well of those around me. What I have learned has to be shared. And in the sharing, my own knowledge deepens further. This is our program, not mine alone.  I seek, learn, grow, share with others and then repeat the process.

I’m not saying that I would not welcome being struck by lightening and having a celestial experience. I think it would be pretty neat. But I am not going to feel incomplete if I never have one. If it requires sitting in the lotus position for several months under a bodhi tree in quiet meditation, it definitely won’t ever happen. But the same teachings about body, mind and spirit can still be learned one step at a time. With patience, I believe we can all get to our Nirvana.

Early To Rise

I have been getting up at 5:30 AM for the past couple of months. That’s new for me. I hadn’t set an alarm clock except for when I was going to be travelling, for years. I would go to bed at 11 o’clock or so and wake up anywhere between 6:30 and 7:30, depending upon my dogs and the neighbourhood roosters. But honestly, I was finding the evenings long and it seemed to take me more time in the morning to pull myself together to face the day.

Five thirty seems early but here, close the equator, that’s when the sun rises slowly over the mountain behind my home. I find I really do enjoy sitting on my terrace sipping hot water with lemon and sort of meditating, sort of thinking, slowly waking up and greeting the day. By 8:00 AM I have written a 500 words or so in my journal, done ten minutes of Tai-Chi, fed and walked the dogs, and cooked myself a nutritious breakfast. Before, by that time, I had barely finished my first coffee. Now, I have accomplished a whole lot.

As I get older, I find that I like routine more. Contrary to what I thought before, I actually find it gives me more freedom. I don’t have to think about what I am going to do upon awakening. I know before I go to bed how I am going to spend the first couple of hours of the day and prepare for it. It is still a very relaxed routine. However, I feel like I have accomplished a great deal very early in the day. There aren’t the distractions of later on in the morning, it’s quiet and meditative.

Of course, getting up early means going to bed earlier. By 9:30 PM it is lights out. Before then I have usually been reading something for a half an hour, slowing down my pace of the day. Sometimes I finish the chapter but sometimes the Kindle slips out of my hand onto the bed and I know it’s time to turn out the light.

I find that I need a solid morning routine as well. I like having that sense of accomplishment very early in the day. I have done things that are important to me without seeing them as a chore or work. I want to have conscious contact with my Higher Power. It’s important for me to write. My body is enjoying the benefits of some morning stretching. In essence, this routine helps me to awaken my mind, body and spirit. I have accomplished a great deal and feel like I am ahead.

beautiful bloom blooming blossom

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Perhaps you don’t think you need a morning routine. Perhaps you think you’re not a morning person. But give it a try. Getting up even 15 or 20 minutes earlier and spending that time in some sort of silence, meditation or inspirational reading will give a you a jump start on your day, boost your sense of self worth, self confidence and accomplishment. Try it for a week and see how it changes your day, how you relate to others and to yourself. I know it works because I am seeing the benefits in myself. You will too.