I’ve never been completely sure I know how to pray. Even when I say to myself, “I am going to pray” or “I need to pray” or “I am praying,” I’m not ever convinced that what I’m doing is actually praying.
I’ve tried many different recommended techniques over the years. I went through a period where I was praying formal prayers (an example might be the Lord’s Prayer). In another phase, I practiced simply opening my inner space to the silence and asking it to teach me
Rosaries (despite the fact I’m not Catholic) and rudraksha beads have also been periodic favorites, especially when I feel the need to pray while out walking, traveling or even while trapped in social situations I haven’t yet figured out how to escape from.
Whether tackling the proper prayer position, the recommended length for the prayer time or even dividing up how much of the time period should be spent talking (praying) versus not talking, it is all a particularly slippery slope in my world.
For example, while my lightly Christian upbringing brought with it countless reminders that the “on your knees” prayer position is ideal, I can count on one hand the number of times I have ever prayed while kneeling – and most of those were in context with publicly kneeling on something comfy and padded during some type of religious service. Otherwise, my knees simply won’t stand for it and the rest of me isn’t enthused either.
The line between meditation, contemplation and prayer feels particularly blurry. They sound like three separate things. So I have experienced some amount of consternation in regards to whether I have completed adequate amounts of each on a regular basis as well as which one of the three should be done first.
Mostly these days, I have found myself gravitating towards meditation and contemplation rather than prayer, because I am not so plagued with worries about being too self-centered when I am doing these practices. I figure whatever comes up – or out – that is what was needed for me to grow, grieve, evolve, whatever.
But then recently I was reading Martha Beck’s memoir called “Leaving the Saints.” In this memoir, she talks about her experiences with religion – and specifically Mormonism – growing up and then again in adulthood.
While I’ve never been especially drawn to self-identify with a particular religious path (although there are times I have absolutely done in during attempts to fit in), I have found this book especially intriguing from the perspective that one particular branch of my family is devoutly Mormon.
But that is not why I decided to read “Leaving the Saints.” I decided to read it because, like Martha Beck, I experienced trauma and abuse at the hands of religious leaders and I wanted to learn more about how she healed from that in her own life.
So far, reading her book has been so helpful! And one of the most helpful parts has also been one of the least anticipated.
She credits her former husband with helping her learn a particularly lovely way to pray that she shares in her memoir.
She calls it “Leaf in a Stream” prayer. She says that to do this, she tunes in to the silence within her as best she can. Then she pays attention to see if specific yearnings arise out of that inner silence – for instance, yearnings towards heading in a specific direction or taking a particular action.
She then prays for these things.
From what I can infer, this type of prayer helps her (the “Leaf”) tune in to the silence (the “Stream”), notice which way she is already yearning or leaning towards, and then simply indicate with her prayers that yes, she does want to go further in that direction.
This sounds so lovely to me and so wise! It sounds like having a two-way conversation rather than simply sending up a stream of random requests that may or may not have anything to do with what is actually good or relevant for where I am in my life at the moment.
It also feels respectful. It feels respectful of the fact that I am an embodied being, so I will have preferences (yearnings as well as aversions). It feels respectful of those preferences as possible communication tools – ways the silence can send me subtle GPS directions – “head this way, not that way.” I just need to learn how to tune in, listen and then indicate my agreement with continuing forward on a path my heart already yearns to follow forward.
I have tried it – this “Leaf in a Stream” prayer method – once already, and I nearly cried with how grateful I felt afterward! You mean I can pray for something I actually already want and not feel guilty and selfish and self-centered and greedy and shallow for doing so?
I had no idea there was any possible method of prayer that would permit these two experiences – praying for what I want AND not feeling guilty about it – to co-exist.
Right before I read Martha Beck’s memoir and learned about this new prayer method, I had been attempting something sort of similar – opening myself up into the inner silence and just praying “teach me.”
I think this “Leaf in a Stream” prayer method might be the instructional response I’ve been praying for. If it is, this is also proof I just had a bonafide dialogue – a real honest-to-goodness conversation – with whatever has been listening to my faltering attempts at prayer all these decades.
That is pretty exciting!
Today’s Takeaway: Do you have a favorite method of praying that really feels personally right for you? I have had people tell me they pray when they are out in the sunny fields with their dog or when they sit quietly strumming their guitar. I have heard so many methods, but until now I have never found one that really feels like a fit for me. I would love to hear what prayer approach you most favor if you would be willing to share!