how do you pray?
November 4, 2010 10:39 AM   Subscribe

How do you pray? I mean the personal kind of praying.

I'm not religious, but I'd like praying to become part of my life. I'd love to hear ideas to help me find my way to pray.

In "Eat, Pray, Love" Elizabeth Gilbert describes how in her hardest moments she writes to God and God writes back. Do you have a personal way like that to talk to God? Could you describe it? Specifics would be great (what do you say or ask? write? think? talk? morning? evening? once a week? only in a crises?)! Thanks!

(I've seen this. I'm more in the direction of very personal praying and concrete descriptions of how)
posted by ThiefOfSweets to Religion & Philosophy (36 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
I stargaze for long stretches at a time and think about people I love and people I don't and about how I can be nicer to both groups.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 10:46 AM on November 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

During my personal prayer time, I --

-thank God for the many blessings he has given me

-praise him for his goodness and other characteristics -- mercy, love, patience, etc.

-repent of my own wrongdoing

-petition him on my own behalf and on the behalf of others -- that we might be faithful in living according to his will.
posted by BurntHombre at 10:51 AM on November 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

In the Catholic faith, it is good to begin prayer with an Act of Contrition.

You can get any of the different versions from Catholic websites.

This acknowledges our culpability for personal sin and restores us to grace..our faith teaches that God hears our prayers best when we are not in sin.

Then say the Lord's Prayer, which acknowledges that he is in charge.

Then ask for what you wish, talk to Him as if he were your Father--be respectful and mindful of who you are talking to.
posted by AuntieRuth at 10:51 AM on November 4, 2010

Any activity (even passive) which brings my creator's existence into the forefront of my mind is prayer. I have no rules. I pray in any and every which way I can think of, the more the better.
posted by thatguyjeff at 10:54 AM on November 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

For me it's always been a sort of brief, focused meditation. Close my eyes, relax slowly cascading from head to toe, and slowly grow my sphere of awareness--picture my chair, my room, the building, the block, the city. Stop breathing long enough to let the silence in, and keep on living.
posted by Phyltre at 10:59 AM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

This book has been a big influence on me.

As has this book.

As has this book.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:01 AM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thanks to hermitosis, I read tarot cards when I need to organize my thoughts. I don't do it for prognostication or mumbo jumbo. I just do it as a guided meditation exercise that simutaneously provides me a familiar structure and asks me to apply some universal concepts to my own personal experiences.

Also, they're pretty.
posted by jph at 11:02 AM on November 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

I stop what I am doing, get to place where I can be alone, and I focus on something outside (or go outside) and feel a sense of appreciation for how beautiful this world is. Then I address God inside my own head, with a considerable sense of reverence. I explain what is going on inside me and ask for help or strength or the wisdom to see the right path ahead.
posted by bearwife at 11:05 AM on November 4, 2010 [5 favorites]

Almost exactly what bearwife said, for me.
posted by Miko at 11:07 AM on November 4, 2010

You don't say whether you are looking for written prayers or a way to pray in your own words and thoughts. I've tried to address both, but I would urge you to consider written prayers as a way to get comfortable with the practice of praying.

Thus, I would look for written prayers that you can get behind even though you're not religious. A lot of good prayers have a kind of poetry to them that can help you find a center to yourself or be in the moment even if you're not totally sure who you're praying to or for or whatever. I find that I'm not always sure who I'm praying to: my own prayers are at least as much an expression of doubt as they are of any sort of dogmatic certainty.

You don't have to close your eyes, although it might help once you get used to the act of praying. Obviously if you start with written prayers, you'll need to read them until you have them memorized -- once you have, they can be very comforting things to recite to yourself.

Find a quiet place, and arrange your body in a comfortable position. If kneeling isn't your thing, you don't have to kneel, although I submit that prayer is at least as physical as it is mental, and to find a consistent posture of some sort.

I'd try to make it the same place and time of day -- right after breakfast, say, in your bedroom, or on the bus if you feel comfortable there -- but be patient with yourself if you forget. Like any exercise, you will miss a day here and there, and the point isn't to add something else to the list of tasks you are neglecting to get done on time: it's to take some time and feed your spirit, or soul, or mind, or whatever. That thing that responds to prayer.

Give yourself as long as you need to let the inner voices quiet down: moments bleed into one another and often you will have a lot on your mind. Let those things come up, have their say, and fade for minute so that you have a sense of what's really on your mind. Then let them go, and turn your attention to the prayer that is at hand.

Some prayers:

I really like the St. Francis Prayer.

You could try the Miserere: I expect that praying those words, over and over again, would help cultivate a sense of humility.

I was recently exposed to the idea of Centering prayer, which you might find helpful. One centering prayer which was suggested to me was to repeat the phrase from the psalm, "Be still, and know that I am God" slowly and carefully, leaving a word off from the end each time, like this:

Be still, and know that I am God
Be still, and know that I am
Be still, and know that I
... and so on until you just get to "Be."

If written prayers don't necessarily do it for you, you can still use them as a model for what you're trying to do. For instance, as a child, I was taught that The Lord's Prayer was a structural model for communicating with God, in the way that you would approach a very powerful person who held tremendous influence over your life. That is, you would start by praising that person ("your name is set apart from all others" &c.) and maybe make a small request ("give us enough bread for today") and remind him that you are striving to exemplify the same sort of virtues that you would like to be treated with ("forgive us ... as we forgive"). So, if you're looking for personal, as opposed to written prayers, you could use that as a model.

Good luck.

(Disclaimer: as you can probably tell, I am Catholic, and evangelical before that, so my suggestions are from that tradition. Please take what I've said with however much salt you need.)
posted by gauche at 11:14 AM on November 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: gauche, I'm looking for a way to pray in my own words, though thanks for the suggestions.
posted by ThiefOfSweets at 11:35 AM on November 4, 2010

I think the universal component of traditional prayer is making a distinct separation in your mind between religion and magic. I use the term magic loosely here, and probably not in the sense that you're thinking of initially. An example of magic would be praying for for a result, eg. get X in return for praying for X. Magic can be as extreme as the desire of gaining additional power, or as subtle as praying for a friend or family member to be cured of a disease. I personally feel there's nothing inherently wrong with praying for a friend or relative that is sick, just as long as its kept in context that in prayer you're also acknowledging that whatever happens...well, you know the rest...

The religious aspect, primarily being thankful, respectful, pious, and humble, is acknowledging the things in your life that are out of your control. Asking for guidance instead of asking for concrete solutions is probably the easiest way to explain a typical act of prayer. Putting your faith in a higher power instead of asking for that power to be given to you is also another way to explain the difference. Basically once you realize the philosophy of being religious, it is something that becomes a part of you and is personal. But it's not something that has to be by the book.

For example, one of the variances of prayer is the process of fasting, where the act of fasting is ridding yourself of earthly desires. That does not mean to also not take care of your basic needs...its a symbolic act...if someone offers you food, be thankful and accept it!
posted by samsara at 11:36 AM on November 4, 2010 [4 favorites]

I'll assume we subscribe to different religious views, but in general prayer can be pretty simple. This is an outline of how I learned to pray:

1. Address God/The Universe/Higher Power/etc

2. Express gratitude for the things/people/events in your life

3. Express your desires (things you want, help you need, blessings, etc)

4. Close the prayer, usually this is where you can say "In the name of..." or "Amen", or some way of indicating a closure to your expression.

5. Wait. Think. Ponder on what you've said. Listen for an answer from within or without. This can be as short (a pause) or as long as you need (eternity).

Live your life in accordance with what you've said and felt.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:47 AM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm not religious either, Thief of Sweets, but sometimes I pray as follows:

For example, if I'm stuck on a long line waiting for something I might think, "Jesus H. Christ, get me the fuck OUT of here!"

or, at a doctor's office,

"Please dear GOD let my mammogram be normal."

or, if somebody is acting obnoxious at work, I might say to myself, "Holy Mother of God you must stop this NOW."

That sort of thing. So I guess my answer is, "Only in crisis does God come alive for me."
posted by DMelanogaster at 11:50 AM on November 4, 2010 [4 favorites]

I am not religious by any stretch, but I always make time daily for personal reflection and mindfulness.
Generally, I go for a walk in the evening and contemplate the day, acknowledge others for whom I care for and respect. It is a great way to clear ones minds, center ones self, and become more aware.
Not sure if this is particularly what you are asking, but I think of it in a similar vain of 'prayer'.
posted by handbanana at 12:10 PM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I pray all day long, because for me, praying is the same as just talking to God. At random points during the day if I find myself without anything to do (or, conversely, so overladen with work that I'm going a little numb), I open my thoughts and begin to discuss what's going on with God. I ask for help and guidance when I am feeling lost, and I thank the universe for gifting me with so many wonderful blessings. Most frequently I am saying, "God, if this is meant to be, help me make it happen. If it's not, show me to the next great opportunity, and help me to take that."

IMO, Praying doesn't have to be this really formal, stiff affair. I view God as this incredibly wonderful, benevolent force that I try to stay connected with at all times, like a grandparent hanging out in the kitchen. You might be in another part of their house, but you can always call out and say, "Grandma, I love you. I'm not sure of what I should do about this. Can I talk to you right now?" and God will be there to listen.

I also do lots of affirmations and kriya yoga (when I'm not being a hyperactive stupid head, cause even though I'm s'posed to do yoga/meditation every day, I don't...).
posted by patronuscharms at 12:13 PM on November 4, 2010 [6 favorites]

All prayer is is talking to God. Really.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:14 PM on November 4, 2010

I see prayer as an opportunity to appreciate the world around me, to list the things/people I'm grateful for and to pause and jump off the hamster-wheel of negative thoughts that I tend to get trapped on when I stop paying attention. I've been a spiritual seeker for a long time and so the actual practices I use are from a mish mosh of disciplines but boil down to trying to be present and thankful.
posted by agatha_magatha at 12:26 PM on November 4, 2010

I'm not religious but the famous words attributed to Mother Teresa in conversation with Dan Rather seem apt here:

Rather: What do you say to God when you pray?
Teresa: I don't say anything; I listen.
Rather: Well, what does God say?
Teresa: He listens, too.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 12:38 PM on November 4, 2010 [9 favorites]

St. Ignatius of Loyola (founder of the Jesuits) highly recomends the daily examination of conscience.

For me, that's laying in bed before sleep and mentally asking what I wish I had done better that day (because I was sarcastic or impatient or uncharitable or failed in a commitment), and then what I am proud of having done that day (for its honesty, charity, patience, whatever).

It only takes a moment, and it clears my mind pretty well.

Some mornings I bust out the awesome Breastplate of St. Patrick because it's nearly Shakersperian in its language and feels like a bracing sea wind in my face...but usually not.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:39 PM on November 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

To summarize my answer in that previous thread, I
1. Start with daily gratitude for blessings and challenges, which can take a long time.
2. Move on to confessing things done and left undone that I regret.
3. Lastly, I try to visualize the ways I can be a better person from here on out.
posted by ldthomps at 12:45 PM on November 4, 2010

I bring my awareness to my own heart (literally, to my heart beating in my chest) and take a few moments to breathe deeply and consciously, imagining a sensation of softening and opening.

Sometimes I mentally verbalize a simple question or request ("Help me please," "What should I do here?"). Or if I'm praying for someone, I imagine their face while wishing them well.

Then I sit for a few moments in silence, "listening" (internally) for any response. If it comes, it sounds like my own mental voice, but it comes from deeper inside and is always, unfailingly loving.

Then I say thank you.
posted by ottereroticist at 12:49 PM on November 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

I've been known to do the "pleasepleasepleeeease let X or Y happen/not happen" thing, but I don't have a real direction for that request. I am about as atheistic of a believer in God as you can find; I know that there is a presence or spirit of some sort, and that's it. Still, as an occasional church soloist at one church in particular, I've thought a lot about what Christianity, spirituality and prayer mean to me.

I think it's still too personal to do on my own (if that makes sense), but I've started asking our pastor to "think good thoughts" or "think of" people and events that could use intervention. This is especially meaningful to me when I know that the person needing assistance is religious (like my fiance's grandmother, for example), and would deeply appreciate this. I think that for me, this is a way of meditating by putting someone else's needs and desires ahead of what I might do for myself.

The feeling of community puts the spirit into me. There are the prayers that we read along, not knowing what the next word will be until we get to it (those congregational confessions that change every week) and the Lord's Prayer/Gloria Patri/Doxology that everyone has always known by heart. I try to think about the words as I say them, how other people have said them for generations before me, and why they chose these words, and how I can avoid taking them for granted even if I don't agree with or understand each word's presence in my life.

Mostly, though, it's the music. I sit in the choir loft, with our big giant rumbly organ and our fantastic organist, and I let the sound and vibrations move through my body. When we hold a note all together ("Praise God, from whom all blessings floooooooow..."), or when the people around me make their own harmony, that's it.

People all concentrating on the same good thing, appreciating other people's presence in the world: that's my praying.
posted by Madamina at 12:57 PM on November 4, 2010

As an erstwhile Catholic (and ex-friar), I found the Rosary to be a nice middle ground of "scripted prayer" and contemplative prayer/mediatation. Orthodox Christians have a similar practice with The Jesus Prayer. From what understand Islam also has its own prayer bead tradition as well. The point is, you might want to try something that has some structure and focus when you're starting out (and when you're stressed), but that will also allow you some of benefits of "Unknowing" as you become more familiar and regular with your prayer routine.

Important thing to keep in mind: It's OK if a particular method doesn't work for you after a couple weeks of trying; move on until you find one that is in tune with you and where you're at right now.
posted by KingEdRa at 1:41 PM on November 4, 2010

When I need to pray, I generally find myself on a prayer mat, even though I am not much given to the prescribed five times daily prayers. I often end up just talking with God. I know many Muslims who find reciting a repeated praise or prayer over the tasbeeh/prayer beads very helpful. It has never really worked for me.

Two suggestions from my own experience:

1) Try different things, but I would recommend not trying a bunch at the same time. Give one method a shot for a while. If it doesn't work for you, try something else.
2) Part of the efficacy of prayer lies in it being a habit.

posted by bardophile at 3:06 PM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite] might want to read that passage about God not listening to sinners in context.

The line is taken from a long passage in John 9, and specifically from a speech by a blind man who was healed by Jesus on the Sabbath. The Pharisees deny the miracle at first, but then say that if Jesus healed on the Sabbath, then Jesus must be a sinner because he isn't supposed to do the healing activities on the Sabbath:
Therefore said some of the Pharisees, This man is not of God, because he keepeth not the sabbath day. Others said, How can a man that is a sinner do such miracles? And there was a division among them.
Then the Pharisees go through a long denial process, trying to figure out how something like this could happen when all their teaching says it's not supposed to happen. They decide maybe the guy was never blind, and call the guy's parents to testify, and they of course say that yes, he always was blind. Then they say well, don't praise Jesus, praise God, because Jesus couldn't have done this - because Jesus is a sinner and sinner's can't heal with the power of God.
25He answered and said, Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.

26Then said they to him again, What did he to thee? how opened he thine eyes?

27He answered them, I have told you already, and ye did not hear: wherefore would ye hear it again? will ye also be his disciples?

28Then they reviled him, and said, Thou art his disciple; but we are Moses' disciples.

29We know that God spake unto Moses: as for this fellow, we know not from whence he is.

30The man answered and said unto them, Why herein is a marvellous thing, that ye know not from whence he is, and yet he hath opened mine eyes.

31Now we know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth.

32Since the world began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind.

33If this man were not of God, he could do nothing.
In other words, what has just happened in this passage calls into question everything the Pharisees "know," including their knowledge that "God heareth not sinners." Since the world began, the blind man says, we've never "known" anyone who could heal inborn blindness; and yet, we just saw it happened. Maybe this means we don't know as much as we think we know. Maybe your emphasis of rules and ritual over humanity and its needs is an old way of thinking, and maybe Jesus is here to divert us from that path.

Do the Pharisees care?
34They answered and said unto him, Thou wast altogether born in sins, and dost thou teach us? And they cast him out.
I am really not so ready to imitate the Pharisees by repeating what they think they "know" and casting people out. I think this passage is one of many that indicates that the rules of religious institutions should not be held above the needs of humans for a relationship with the divine.

In any case, it can be read in more than one way, and neither this or anything in any other text should discourage anyone from praying to the God of their understanding.
posted by Miko at 4:24 PM on November 4, 2010

I grew up in a pretty middle of the road, Christian church, but it took me 22 years to figure out that when I pray, I don't have to have that solemn, serious tone. I can be myself when I pray! I can have my sense of humor and talk to God that way. It's a much more personal and enjoyable experience that way.

If there is a God who created me, the least I can do is be myself when we communicate.
posted by shortyJBot at 4:44 PM on November 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Mod note: my dearest friends, please do not make this into an argument about prayer as it is practiced in your particular faith tradition. OP is looking for assistance in their lives. If you need to do this my god vs your god thing, take it directly to metatalk, it's not okay here. Thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:52 PM on November 4, 2010

I pretty much do what DMelanogaster does. I have done the Elizabeth Gilbert writing thing, but I wouldn't call that praying (i.e. asking for something from deity) so much as attempting to have a conversation with uh... whatever. Beats me how it works, but you get some kind of interesting results...
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:48 PM on November 4, 2010

Many years ago, my life pretty much crashed and burned. In AA, I was told I had to learn how to live the rest of my life and of primary importance was finding and developing a relationship with a "higher power." In desperation, I prayed this prayer, "God, if there is a God, speak to me in language I can understand and I will pay attention." Sometimes today, I will pray, "Please help me see what I am supposed to see," or "Please give me strength," or "Please help me to let go of this." Other than such simple requests, my daily prayer consists of being still, meditating, holding up in my thoughts those I am concerned with or for, and feeling grateful. This has helped me to grow and to brave a lot of life's difficulties and to live rather happily for nearly forty years.
posted by Anitanola at 6:02 PM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have (in addition to other more set prayer times), bedtime conversations (well...I talk anyway) with G-d.

I talk about what was really good about the day, what could have gone better, what I've learned, ask for strength/hope/sometimes wisdom for myself, but I'll talk about what I want for other people too. I also sometimes talk about what's going on in the world.

I close with a brief affirmation of faith.

For me, prayer is as much about staying in touch with gratitude/reflection/community as it is about talking to G-d and it is very little about asking for things. I was taught that prayer was more about changing you than changing what happens. Hope that helps.
posted by eleanna at 7:36 PM on November 4, 2010

This book is really great for a practical start. It's been a great influence on me, and has the concrete approach you're looking for.
posted by tel3path at 4:15 AM on November 5, 2010

I meditate on a flame until I am white and hot.
The objects of my prayer flicker before me.
When I have thought every thought I close the flame;
Still burning the candle in my mind, I fall backward into sleep.
posted by fritillary at 4:24 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I grew up in a pretty traditional protestant church; prayer was about talking to God. Recently, my prayer is any/all of the following:

1. Talking to God (thanking, cursing, asking, whatever I need to get off my chest)
2. Listening to him (not dominating the conversation and giving him opportunity to tell me what I need to hear)
3. Simply enjoying being in his presence (not saying anything to him, nor expecting him to say anything to me, just spending time with the one who loves me most)
posted by wallaby at 12:07 PM on November 5, 2010

I pray spontaneously, in quiet, alone, and in crowded, noisy places alike. I always keep my eyes open and look up to pray. I do this so that my eyes are elevated to God, but I remain mindfully conscious of my body which is grounded to earth, savoring the wholly satisfying experience of being both with God and of the earth at once.

I then think of the people that I love and allow myself to feel the strength of how much I love them, which words cannot convey. I let myself become aware of how their actions are unspoken ways of showing how much they love me. This love, to me, has always been proof of God in the world, and that is why it is always the substance of my prayer and my gratitude.

Being a rational, introverted sort of person, I struggle to convey my love day to day and stifle it for fear of making people uncomfortable. Prayer is not only a moment for gratitude for me, it's a moment of honesty. It is the most authentic expression of my heart. It often makes me cry.
posted by houndsoflove at 6:25 PM on November 5, 2010

I am flat out terrible at prayer, if we're talking about the bowing the head and folding the hands and waiting to hear the voice of God move silently in me or whatever its supposed to sound or feel like or whatever. I've never really experienced that, and while I am sure some people do, I don't think that it works that way for everyone and I don't think it means there's anything wrong with me because I pray differently and experience God in different ways.

What I'm slightly better at is having an ongoing kind of unspoken dialog between He and I, though. When the internet is working well enough for me to have a skype call with a friend or family member in the morning (I live in a 3rd world country where it doesn't, always). When the elevator goes direct without stopping at every floor. When I remember to pay that bill I've been forgetting about. When I'm late for a meeting but it turns out the other person is too. When I get in a small fender-bender, and remember it could have been worse. When I have a good night out with friends and am driving home with a smile on my face. When I enjoy a nice brunch with folks the next morning. And yeah, when I'm at church on Sunday and worshiping. But in all things - an attitude of thanks and realization that God is there and I can share any experience, any emotion, any problem and especially every good thing with Him. Nobody else notices, its just between us, but doesn't take me away from the situation at hand.

Oh, and I'm not Catholic, but I have a weekly or sometimes bi-weekly confessional: its called "every time the plane is about to touch down." I sort out all my internal shortcomings and failures, and pray my family knows I love them even though I'm shit about showing it sometimes.
posted by allkindsoftime at 10:52 PM on November 5, 2010

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