Try It! You'll Like It!
As I have been talking and listening to people around the country talk about prayer, I am realizing a few things. One is that the word "prayer" is verboten in the vocabulary of our culture now. This word pushes so many buttons in so many people across belief and political systems that judgement is swift, and listening, an abandoned art.
I recently read a column in the New York Times called The Workologist (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/24/jobs/a-boss-wonders-have-you-prayed-about-that.html?). A woman wrote that she was enraged that a manager had asked her if she had "prayed about" a situation at work. The columnist's answer talked at length about the Civil Rights Act and religious litigation although the manager didn't order the employee to pray, or treat her unequally when she didn't. But we can get crazy with that word!
I couldn't help thinking that I would be interested in whether the manager himself had prayed about the work issue and what had happened as a result. I would be equally interested if someone shared a dream they had about the work problem, or what insight may have occurred as they wrote about it in their journal, or did yoga, or meditated on it, or tried to write a song about it. But if any of those things had happened, probably no one would've written an irate letter to the Times about it!
When I first began to tell people about Prayer Soup, I could see the bias bubble up before I ever got to the word "soup". And this was from both ends of the spectrum - from those who don't "believe" in prayer to those who assume that Prayer Soup reflects or promotes their idea of what prayer is and how it should be done. I think on both ends of this spectrum, we are all the lesser for it.
We have a universal human need for transcendence, for meaning, for purpose and for connection. I believe when we acknowledge this need, or search for it, or put those needs into action, we are praying. Whether you are in conversation with a traditional God figure, or in your garden, or creating art or sharing art, or on either end of a kind or generous act, you are experiencing similar things with those who pray in the conventional way.
Another thing I've learned is to respect the idea that prayer winds its way through a continuum: it stops and starts and meanders along in different directions and at uneven paces. Prayer Soup is about people's experiences with prayer, and no matter how you do it, or what you believe, there appears to be good days when the connections are clear and powerful, and others when they are, well, not!
I've learned that prayer begins in imagination, in hoping and dreaming. Sometimes this is used as a derogatory way to demean traditional prayer and the idea of religious faith: "Oh", we say, "that's all a fantasy." But, my goodness, if you have dedicated yourself to the peace movement or ending hunger, that's exactly the same place you begin! If you are standing in a line for five hours in Las Vegas to give blood to strangers, you are doing so from some hope that this small, personal act will make a difference within a moment of unthinkable inhumanity.
Trust me, listening to people talk about this process - how they search for meaning, and what happens when they do - is so much more interesting than inserting your own assumptions about what you think they believe. It's also the first step in loosening the grip our biases have on us.
I also think it's praying; but, please, don't let that stop you!