I get a lot of emails asking me how I pray, what is prayer and asking for general advice on how to pray and practices associated with it. I decided to write this series of posts to hopefully answer these questions, though I must state that prayer is very individual and means very different things to different people, so take this as you will!
All views on these posts are my own and I advise further research in your own time to really find out what you believe and what you’d like to take from this. Please note that this also comes from my own beliefs (Shinto/Pagan) and so will be from my point of view.
What Is Prayer?
Wikipedia describes prayer as “…an invocation or act that seeks to activate a rapport with an object of worship through deliberate communication“. To many people the term ‘prayer’ is exclusively associated with religion and is something that is only done in church or by overly religious individuals. I see prayer as a flexible term for an act in which we thank, request, confess or simply speak to something outside of ourselves, or even to ourselves. It is a very complex term that doesn’t really have the boundaries that we often associate it with.
The most important misconception I hear about prayer is that you must be religious, or belong to a religion to pray. This is not correct, anyone can pray! In fact, prayer is a very natural thing to do and you probably find yourself already doing it much more than you even thought.
Examples of Prayer
Prayer can refer to a number of practices in religion, spirituality and general well-being. Examples of prayer include:
- Reciting set prayers in a place of worship alone or amongst others (e.g. Religious services at a church, shrine, temple or other building)
- Personal prayer in which you may thank a deity, spirit or the Universe for their blessings on a regular basis. Prayer books can be read from or we may speak whatever is on our mind at that moment.
- Structured spells/magic and rituals that involve addressing deities in witchcraft, voodoo, druidry and other pagan paths. These can be done in a group or alone.
- Song, music and dance. Many religious paths incorporate music into prayer. I’m sure everyone has heard hymns or religious music of some type in their lives. Think of the amazing energy of gospel churches, or imagine pagans dancing under the full moon. Song, dance and music has long been a form of worship and prayer.
- Emotional prayer. Many people will find that they do not pray but as soon as a desperate situation hits they begin to plead with something, anything that is out there in order to attempt to change the outcome. Similar to this is perhaps when we hope that our lottery ticket is the one, when we want to hear about a house or job. We might find ourselves saying ‘please, I need this!’
- Affirmations, mantras, meditation and visualising can be seen as forms of prayer. Prayers do not need words to be effective. Even yoga can be considered prayer as we are taking the time to slow down and really experience our body and how it feels.
There are many more examples of prayer out there and these are just some examples. As you can see, prayer is a lot more complicated than just a person kneeling at an altar. Prayer can be silent, a quiet mumbling or loud energetic chanting and singing. It can be done in a group or alone, in a church or in your own home. You can pray surrounded by candles, bells and burning incense or you can pray on your morning commute. Prayer is very flexible.
Prayer Is All About The Intent
Praying should have a purpose, an intent. In many religions and faiths, that purpose is to communicate with deities. It’s a pretty universal thing to thank deities for their blessings, other prayers may be asking for something, praying for relief from illness, debt or other circumstances. But all of these prayers have a reason. Praying without a reason is pointless.
If you pray because it’s just something you do, a deeply ingrained habit, think about why you do it. Is it because you were born into a religion that does that? Do you find yourself thinking about what you want for lunch, rather than focusing your thoughts on the prayer? If this sounds like you I’d advise that you read on and find out more about what prayer is and how it can help you. Prayer should be something that is done from the heart and not a chore.
In the terms of working with deities, prayer is a private conversation with them, a time in which we focus on ridding ourselves of outside distractions in order to communicate our wishes and gratitude. By stopping our busy-ness and simply being quiet (or loud, depending on your tradition!) we show respect and reverence to the deities of our choosing.
The Purpose of Prayer
- To communicate or establish a communication with a deity, our higher self, an ancestor/spirit, the Universe or other
- As a means of focus
- To express gratitude
- To ask something other than ourselves to aid us with a problem we may have
- To ask something other than ourselves to provide us with healing
- As a means of self-development and self-love
Again, Prayer Does Not Have To Be Religious
This is an important point I feel that many people do not understand. In this modern world where meditation, yoga, affirmations and positive self-talk are encouraged habits for our daily lives, prayer can fit in quite easily. You don’t have to pray to a deity if you don’t believe in them, you can pray to anything or even just yourself. You can use prayer as a form of affirmations, simply thanking the World or the Universe for what you have. This can help develop gratitude and positivity in your life.
Of course with this blog being about spiritual experiences, I will be talking about connections with the Divine, but there is no reason you can’t apply the same principles to your own life without addressing a deity.
Part 2 will talk about the what, when and where of prayer, along with some examples. Part 3 will talk about the emotional and spiritual aspects behind prayer, as well as my own experiences. I hope that these posts help you and please let me know if you’d like me to add or change anything!
All images are free to use from Pixabay and do not belong to the author