Recently, I have been thinking about the way we pray. Specifically I am wondering about the merits of communal prayer and individual prayer and if one way is more satisfying or powerful than another.
I don't have a lot of experience with praying in a group. Personally, I feel more connected with the Divine when I go one to one with It. I am less distracted for one thing, and this is no small thing for someone whose mind is usually dancing to a merengue beat.
Our friend, Rev. Tom, sends a reference from Matthew 6:5-14, and a part that resonates with me says: "But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen."
And here's a poem entitled (appropriately enough) "Prayer", by an Orthodox Jewish poet, Yehoshua November:
Before the Silent Prayer, some slip the hood of their prayer shawls over their heads, so that even among many worshipers they are alone with God. Primo Levi wrote about the sadness of "a cart horse, shut between two shafts and unable even to look sideways..." Let me be like those pious ones or that horse, so that, even amidst a crowd, no other crosses the threshold of my dreaming.
Yet I do wonder if there is some additional power in numbers - to borrow a recent political phrase - that we are stronger together. Certainly I have discovered this truth in other secular experiences, so why wouldn't it be true in prayer as well?
The actor and Catholic activist Martin Sheen has said that he believes piety is something you do alone, while true spirituality can only be achieved in community. My Muslim friends believe that when you pray in a group, the message to God is many times stronger than when you pray individually. And of course, the services at Rev. Tom's Christian church, like most others, are full of prayers which the congregation says together.
I have participated in the traditional Quaker meeting with dozens of others, in individual prayer with God, silent, until inspired to share the fruits of this silence with the others in the meeting room. I have felt the collective power of that silence though I cannot honestly say that I have felt more connected there than I have alone in the room with God. But I may have given up too soon.
The purpose of Prayer Soup is to find the commonalities in our prayer experience and to share it with others. It strives to be a forum less about dogma or the rules for prayer, but more about people's experience with their prayer practice. Please share yours! What happens to you when you pray alone or in community? Do you prefer on way to another, or find that each offers something the other doesn't?
In prayer, do your hands and head go up? Or down? Or do they go sideways to include your neighbor?
I hope, however you pray, that during this transcendent season, all of your prayers find their intended home.