In our Marsh Associates meeting on Monday, I was asked to write down and share a few things about what praying meant to me, along with my fellow Marsh Associates. As we went around and shared what prayer was for us, the variety of practices struck me greatly. One person prayed in singing, in holding hands in a circle; another prayed through personal conversations with the Divine; another through silence, scripture, and reflection; another in unstructured, spontaneous interactions with God.
I must admit, I don’t consciously think about prayer very often. When I sat through worship services as a child, I remember just sitting in silence and waiting during the sections when we were supposed to pray. Sometimes I would think out some sentences, and I thought that these constituted a prayer. But something about the experience didn’t quite ring true with me. I felt like I was just throwing words out into the void, and I was supposed to hear a voice in reply that everyone else somehow could hear.
When my turn to share came, I mentioned the role music and singing has played in my life. An incredible connection can be felt in the swell of voices joined in harmony when we sing. Music has provided a way for me to feel closer with some sensation that I would associate with a Divine presence. When I first attended a service at Marsh Chapel, I was immediately taken aback with awe when the choir began singing from the upper balcony behind me. It is moments like these that I think I experience closeness to the Holy Spirit most vividly.
But does this experience constitute prayer? It certainly is a little different from the structured experience during service from my childhood. For me, prayer involves being deeply present in the current moment. Singing is one practice which allows me to reach this state. Occasionally I can also find it when in motion, walking around on my own or in silence. At other times, I reach this state when I have deep conversation with another individual, or when I share fellowship with a community of people. I don’t know if any or all of these things are prayers. But I believe that they do connect me with a deeper current, one that connects me to the world around me, and ultimately to the Divine, whatever and wherever the Divine may be.
I’ll end this post with a poem by Mary Oliver, one of my favorite poets. I find its simplicity and earnestness touching, and it beautifully captures that I believe a prayer entails. Maybe you see prayer differently; perhaps you yourself experience something different entirely from prayer. Whatever your experience may be, I invite you to meditate upon her words as you encounter and experience this grounding presence in your everyday life.
“The Summer Day”
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?