A recent journal prompt caused me to stop and consider a word that I dance around, one that usually makes me uncomfortable, because it’s very hard to compress into a definition–prayer.
Just saying it out loud brings back memories of sitting on a pew as a child while the adults in my world went up to an altar, knelt, and pled their case to a “god” that really seemed to detest them. I can still hear the cacophony of voices climbing up to the rafters in a rickety little church nestled so deep in the hollow that you needed four-wheel drive to get there when it rained. Their prayers were filled with self-loathing, unworthiness, and shame over being human, making mistakes, and simply trying to cope with the challenges of jobs, bills, kids, illness, and…well…life.
I didn’t understand their anguished pleas or why they needed to work themselves into such a lowly, decrepit state in order for this deity (one they professed to love very much) to hear them and respond. If this is what prayer looked and sounded like, then I was pretty sure it wasn’t going to work for me. I didn’t want to be on my knees, for one thing, as I’ve never been what you might call the “submissive” type. I also didn’t want to cry and sweat buckets, and I certainly wasn’t going to do it in front of others. I had to give the Catholics credit for at least providing confessional booths and privacy, although I still disagreed with the idea of spilling my darkest secrets to a man in black…unless it was Johnny Cash, of course. Somehow, I think he’d understand more about hard living than the monastic types who offer absolution for “sins” they’d probably love to commit.
Years later, I began to think of prayer as a conversation between myself and my higher self. When I would say an invocation or a chant to the Goddess, I was consulting with the Divine Feminine in a cosmic sense, but I was also accessing that same energy within me. The famous line from “Charge of the Goddess” by Doreen Valiente still rings true: if that which thou seekest thou findest not within thee, then thou wilt never find it without thee. For behold, She has been with thee from the beginning; and She is that which is attained at the end of desire. That’s some lofty King James sounding language to say that there’s no point in looking for a higher power in some ethereal place beyond the clouds. She is here and now, and She permeates us all.
For Wiccans and Pagans, divinity flows through all that exists–every blade of grass, every tree, and every living thing. Period. There is no separateness for us between “Creator” and “Created.” So, the answers to most problems seemed to present themselves when I would get quiet enough to hear them. Sometimes this would happen in deep meditation, but it has been known to occur while waiting for traffic lights to turn green or in grocery store lines amidst the huddled masses, packs of chewing gum, and raucous tabloids.
I stopped viewing the unfortunate events of my life as “punishment” and began to regard them as stepping stones, lessons to be learned, and results of choices I had made. Sometimes I didn’t like the box I had put myself in, but there was no one to blame, no one to plead with, and no one to make it instantly better like a Fairy Godmother with her magic wand. I was the one holding the wand this time…and the athame and the chalice, for that matter.
That has never been more true than it is now, as I sit here in the relative safety of a Starbucks here in Georgia, while my husband serves overseas in hostile territory. There are days when I hate the war and those who wage it, and there are moments when the house is too quiet, the bed is too empty, and the dining room table is too large. Still, I chose this life, knowing that it’s part of his service to our country and that we would both have to make sacrifices. An epic sort of love generally does come with a high price tag. “Come Rain or Come Shine” is our song. Seriously.
So when I “pray” these days, it might take the form of a chant in Sanskrit or a poem or a yoga sequence dedicated to world peace. The words or actions do not matter so much as the open, receptive state of mind they induce. It’s not about asking for things or apologizing for who I am or anything I’ve done. It’s about being silent, tuning in, and really listening.