On the verge of a brand new edition of Contemporary Prayers coming out on March 23 2021, it seems relevant to share my general experience with a philosophy of prayer. In related posts (upcoming!) I share about why prayer in the first place, about the “God” word and how it seems to me.
Of course, this is a philosophy of one, and whenever I am sharing such things, it is only for you to investigate and see for yourself. That’s kind of the point of the prayer books in a way, is to connect directly, see what happens for you, tweak it, leave it be, and know what your own response is.*
Here are seven ways that I find prayer works effectively
1.Don’t sugar coat a prayer: If you speak with a flourish because it’s who you are, that’s how I have found it best to pray: in your own language, and without filagree that isn’t genuine.
I’ve found my own language is a little less floral, and as a result, the relationship is also easier. Just think about other relationships and the language you use with the people closest to you. If it’s intimate, the way you speak is likely genuine and honest.
2. Bring especially, the petty stuff to prayer: It’s the petty stuff that sometimes really gets me. That’s the stuff that can grab hold of my system and not let go. So that’s the stuff I particularly set down through prayer. That’s how it feels. It’s like setting something down. That’s why in my first book, there are prayers about finding keys and turning down the heat. Sometimes we humans need help making basic decisions or remembering basic things.
I also find that when I do use these kinds of ‘set down’ prayers, I find that I don’t need to ‘hold’ the worry or the fear. I do remember, I do turn and pick up that book and lo, the keys are there underneath the book when I’ve asked for help in prayer with these details. That’s the only reason that I have shared these prayers. They have made things much easier and less thought-filled, created space for me to focus on what feels more important, and they have worked.
3. There’s no need for spiritual experience or special state to pray. What I mean by this is that, if I’m full of fear and I just state that I’m full of fear, it might not make the fear go away at that moment, I might not feel suddenly brave and confident, but it helps me to step back and to connect, and is the opening for a shift to occur. If I am in pain and just say ‘I am in pain!’ in the form of a prayer, or even just sharing with a trusted friend, that too is an honest offering, and I don’t have to look or feel any different than I do.
4. Praying for one specific outcome like Please make Joey get the measles, or Please make it rain so that I don’t have to go to that picnic, doesn't work. It is limited in imagination to what I can dream up for one thing, it’s trying to run the whole show for another. In essence, it’s more controlling than collaborative. It helps to drop the related objects: the people places and things in the situation, and then to see what’s going on underneath for you. Whatever is discovered, make that as an offering, or ask for another way of seeing.
Any kind of prayer however, is ultimately OK however, because its the act of connecting, of remembering that we are not separate, that seems to be the main point.
5. Asking ‘why’ gets you crickets. It’s a little like asking for very specifc and complex outcomes in prayer; asking ‘why’ is kind of a demand. Why did this happen. Why are you punishing me? that one’s an accusation and comes with a built in story: that you are being punished. I once got a strong intuition that really, it’s none of my busness why. I am not privy to the back room workings of the cosmos. I am making a kind of offering in prayer, of what’s here, what feels challenging. Asking Why is demanding an explanation, like you might with a naughty child. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get mad.
6. Offering is anger, rage, giving up, complete resistance or throw-down is a lovely, honest and intimate way to pray. That’s why I include prayers with swears in them - that’s how I’ve found prayer works. It’s part of the honesty thing. I think, as a sidebar, we’ve been told that we are supposed to act and look a certain way to be spiritual or religious. This is something I enthusiastically avoid. I once dropped some books off at a well known retreat center and there was so much soft toned namastaying going on, my bullshit meter was at 11. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough! There are many different flavors and styles of spiritual or religious BS, mixed in with genuine sincerity.
Strange as it may sound, the few times I have truly let my honest rage and despair flow, directing it straight to * and not to the people I felt were involved, or toward myself, I felt, palpably, when the dust settled, a deep and loving response. The offering is the rage, it’s taking it to the source, rather than dumping it on other fallible humans also struggling.
7. It helps if I’ve said prayers at some earlier point, to look back and see how things went, with curiosity. How did it go? You might call this a kind of gratitude practice. Here’s *, where I felt your presence in the day. That way you can see more clearly for yourself if the prayers had any effect, and you can express your awareness of and appreciation for what you’d like more of.
Hannah Burr is a contemporary artist and author. Originally from Boston, she lives in Ann Arbor MI.