I am a fan of the writer Anne Lamott as much for her exploration of spiritual living as her humor. Her relationship with God seems to be as much a part of her daily life as brushing her teeth or snacking, not just something she does on Sunday. One of her recent books is titled Help. Thanks. Wow. The Three Essential Prayers. As a friend recently put it, "That about sums it up."
I love the simplicity at the heart of this book but as I'm reading and listening to people talk about their prayer experiences, I'm struck by the varied ways people use prayer, and the different reasons people do it. We pray to find comfort, to communicate with our personal deity, and to get help with problems. We use formal prayers and our own particular vernacular. We pray in groups or in solitude. We sing and chant prayer; we read prayers; we think prayers.
There are a lot of questions attached to prayer as well. Is there a "right" way to pray? Do prayers "work"? Are we heard? What are our expectations when we sit down, or kneel down, or clear our throats, or heads, to pray?
I'm drawn to an idea from the poet David Whyte who celebrates the discipline of simply remembering every day what is most important to us. Do your prayers include this? Or might you do this often but without thinking of it as "prayer"?
I worry that when we say rote prayers, we forget what we're actually saying and I think the power we can get from prayer is lost. Think about the energy and connection you feel when you play with a grandchild or share a fine meal with a good friend or receive a kindness from a stranger. When we are aware and alive in these true connections, I believe we are in a state of prayer.
And perhaps what we do next is what turns this prayerful state into something powerful and life-changing. We say, "Thanks" or "Hey, I love you." We connect in that moment with what's important, what's essential to us, and then release it, sometimes with no more than a whisper or a thought, sending it into the mysterious beyond to do its magic.