Paying Respect to Prayer


Over the past twenty years, I have attempted to write about prayer's power and impact on my life. When I received my PhD, I was pretty sure I could make time to write a short e-book about prayer and how it helped me succeed in academia (not to mention the other parts of my life). No dice. It has not happened. Obviously, the book has not come out. Nor a monograph. Nor an essay. I've been reduced to a blog post, but I hope to achieve my goals with this post

Talking about prayer to colleagues--be they academics, staff, graduate students--has always been a bit odd or awkward. While wanting to share the incredible joy and relief which prayer facilitates, I do not want to be a preacher, fundamentalist, or downer. Similarly, by mentioning prayer, I don't want to hear others' ongoing chats and or rants; I do not need to be saved or converted, thanks. Then there are the people who are not religious and have no interest; some folks feel, understandably in my eyes, that the mention of prayer is an opening to take shots at organized religion. Having lobbed plenty of those stones in my past, I find them tedious and all too familiar. Usually mentioning prayer in an academic environment means I will end up noggin-nodding out of politeness. Navigating these landscapes is always interesting. Silence is usually the best approach.

Every now and then, though, there are completely amazing conversations. It is because of these and out of respect for those people--you know who you are--and the inherent power of prayer that I write this.

Rather than engaging with traditional representations of prayer as pleading with God for intercessions, as a public performance of humility, as purely symbolic communicative acts meant for human audiences, I understand prayer as emotional technology--a technology that connects us with the Divine, provides multiple perspectives on problems that appear fixed, and improves the quality of our lives.

But how do you open a dialogue to address this, to create decent, agreed upon definitions, and all while not upsetting folks and remaining reasonable and not zealous? I've not been able to do it. This frustrates me. I have generated hundreds of pages, dozens of drafts, and tens of thousands of words trying to address this moving space, this place. However, I rarely saw the key point: you can't tell people how prayer works. That's just not effective--it's inherently against the nature of understanding: an internal unfolding of awareness and insight that takes place in a multiplicity of unique ways. It seems like an act of hubris, now, to say, "Hey, here's how you can use prayer to rock your world--or at least to flush out the seriously sucky bits." 

I still feel compelled to write this text: that's why I'm writing this blog post. I want to publicly acknowledge and assert that prayer (which would take a bit to define) is one of the top three human technologies for living a good, healthy, and happy life. It is important to me, too, to acknowledge that almost every single positive aspect in my adult life after the age 23 has occurred because of prayer work, insights during prayer, or understanding achieved by prayer. This extends to health, happiness, reaching goals, writing content, earning degrees, financial aid, and so forth. It's vital tp pay respect and to honor things and people publicly, so here it is.

As a closing note, one of the best and most insightful approaches I have found to effective prayer--an approach that can fit in a variety of religious paths--is described in several works by Gregg Braden