Originally published 10/11/21
Even though I have been on this plane for 38 years, I only began to examine my relationship with prayer a few months ago. My mother is a life-long Catholic, and I was raised in the Catholic Church. I went to Catholic school from Kindergarten until graduating from high school in 2001. Even though it has been quite a while since then, I still prayed the same way for a long, long time.
All my life prayer looked the same. It meant kneeling in the pews at church, reciting the Apostles’ Creed from my patchy memory along with the rest of the Parish, in a monotone, drone-like voice. It meant saying 10 Hail Mary’s after Confessing that I lied about what REALLY happened to my homework. Prayer looked like kneeling next to my bed at night, asking-No, BEGGING God to change my life.
Check out a snippet of a typical prayer from my youth:
“PLEASE, God, don’t let me fail my math test. Please convince my mom that I can go to my friend’s house for a sleepover Friday. I’m really sorry that I didn’t clean up my room and that my parents are angry, but please forgive me.”
Prayer felt like a weird, obligatory act of asking for something. It didn’t feel special at all. When I prayed, I imagined I was talking to a long haired white man in the sky named God, and his Son, also a long haired white man, who sat next to Him. If I were forgiven for my sins and they determined that I was good enough, they would grant me this wish. It came across as “TELL SKYDADDY WHAT YOU DID WRONG EVEN THOUGH HE SAW YOUR BAD ASS DO IT.”
Deep down, I felt like there had to be more to this because sometimes things happened to me that I absolutely did not deserve. When I prayed about them, or asked God to ease my suffering, it felt like no one was listening. Sometimes we face what feel like insurmountable challenges or we need extra support in our day to day lives. Imagine needing help, and someone saying “pray on it,” but prayer feels like begging your way out of hardships. Prayer felt like another channel by which I was to receive rejection.
Since deepening my reiki practice, I’ve reached for different ways to communicate with The Divine.
What surprised me is that there were so many other ways I could connect with Source. Once, I was on a hike with a dear friend of mine, and we stopped on a massive boulder by the river in Patapsco Park. I didn’t realize it at first, but a small snake was coiled up under the tree a few feet away. It blended right in with the bark, and I didn’t see it at first, but after my initial fear dissipated, I realized that it wasn’t concerned with us at all. It didn’t bother me, so it didn’t bother it. I thought to myself how good it must feel to be so at peace no matter what was happening around you. And that became my prayer. “Let my mind, body, and spirit be at peace, even with all the noise around me.” There have been deeply emotional times where I could barely muster a coherent thought, and I desperately wanted to say something profound as I tried to pray, but all I could muster up was the word “Please.” And so “Please” became my prayer, because I knew that the Universe could hear everything in my heart.
Right now, I find that praying is a simple conversation. I speak or write aloud what I am feeling. I give thanks, I talk about my challenges openly, and I ask for support. I write them a lot, too. It’s almost like my ancestors and guides know how much easier writing is for me. When I leave my journal on my altar, I am convinced they are delivering my words to the Universe just as they exist in my spirit.
I understand those of you who can relate to feeling disconnected from a “traditional” religious or spiritual practice. But I believe with every fiber of my being that prayer does not need to look like a specific thing. Prayer can be a conversation, an observation, or even a conversation between you and the ether. You can write. You can sing. You can use your body as the altar by which you share your deepest thoughts and feelings.
I invite you to explore the ways you may already be praying without even knowing it, and as you make that beautiful discovery, allow yourself to use the ways you are comfortable with communicating as a means of sharing the most sacred parts of yourself.