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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Reclaiming prayer

I have hated the word "prayer" for a long time. I associated it with begging, with denigration, with prostration and genuflection and admitting that you couldn't do something by yourself. Furthermore, in the LDS church, if something is going wrong, if you're concerned or unsure or doubtful, the answer is always to pray. Pray more, pray harder, pray right. If your prayers are not answered in the mode you have been taught all your life to expect, ur doin it rong. Try again. Pray more, pray harder, pray right.

A very toxic way of dealing--or attempting to deal--with your deity.

When I left the church I stopped praying, of course. And of course, the first thing my mother asked me when I broke the news to her was, Have you prayed about it? Oh Mom. OF COURSE I HAVE. I spent the months preceding my official disaffection on my knees, and not in the fun sexy Madonna way. I had been praying for fifteen years as hard as I could to hear what I knew I was supposed to hear. I never heard it. And in those desperate last months, when I was looking frantically for the reason to stay, I still didn't hear it. And then I was gone, free, with no more need and no more urge and no more reason to pray.

And I hated that word. Prayer. "I'll pray for you". "Sending prayers your way". It seemed--still seems, sometimes, depending on the situation--like a cop-out, a way to sound pious and caring without actually DOING anything to help a person. These kinds of prayer pass the buck, put the onus on deity, allow someone to feel good about themselves without doing much at all. This I still feel. In addition, growing up in the LDS church instills contempt for other kinds of prayer: the rosary and things like that. It's rote, it's memorized, it's devoid of Real Feeling. You aren't actually TALKING to God--you're chanting at it. (Of course this ignores the many rote prayers recited in Mormon churches) So I didn't have any good feelings toward Catholic or Episcopalian or Jewish prayer either. I was right down on prayer. I still don't have much use for the traditional sense of prayer, the one that is a supplication or petition. As an apatheist I prefer to work on things myself and then ask people who can actually help to help when needed.

But there is another kind of prayer, one worth reclaiming, one worth partaking in. This kind of prayer is a thanksgiving, a communion, an ecstasy, an adoration. It is physical. It is what Ruby Sara means when she ends her beautiful posts with "Grok Earth. Pray without ceasing." It is what Dianne Sylvan creates when she dances and chants and cooks. It is what environmentalists and ecofeminists do when they protest, pick up garbage, hike in the woods, try to save beached whales. It is what men and women do the world over when they make love honestly and truly. The kind of prayer I am interested in is affirmative and physical and acknowledges the world and the people we love. Walking outside can be a prayer of this kind; racing through an amazing book can be; baking brownies certainly is. The point and the aim is to be engaged, to be aware, to be grateful--not to debase yourself, but to understand that you are part of the world. You affect the world. You affect people you love, animals you take care of, art you create. The point is to rejoice.

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