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Prayer, whatever it is

Exploring the methods and meanings of prayer

By Carolyn Pogue

Lately I’ve been thinking about prayer — what it is, what we know about it and what I believe. Perhaps the most beautiful words I’ve ever read about prayer are from Lebanese mystic Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet. “When you pray you rise to meet in the air those who are praying at that very hour . . .”

Most mornings, I light a candle and pour water to symbolize balance, a ritual learned from Very Rev. Stan MacKay. Then I light incense, read and pray. I imagine my prayers floating away as smoke does, joining flocks of prayers winging their way around the world, meeting prayers drifting off Tibetan prayer flags, joining the prayers of prostrate Muslims, whirling Sufis, Jews at the Western Wall, elders in a sweat lodge, children at bed time.

Recently, I joined the prayer chain at Hillhurst United in Calgary. Although I’ve prayed most of my life, I’d never been part of a group with the sole purpose of praying. Interestingly, we do not even meet. Instead, Donna Den checks for prayer requests at church and e-mails them to us. Then, each of us prays in our own way for people we know and many we don’t.

On Sunday mornings at Hillhurst United, we say the Centering Prayer, as printed in the bulletin, which ends, “Hear our silent meditation.” Beneath that is written, “Wondering what to pray? There aren’t magic words. Rest in the silence, name people and places of joy and/or concern. . . trust in this sacred listening.” I very much like this little instruction.

As more churches explore ancient Christian practices such as healing touch, I hope we might also recover ancient ways to pray, and to invite people of other denominations and spiritual traditions to show us how they pray. Humans have so many different ways: we dance, sing, chant and drum. We paint, stitch, walk and sit. We bake, speak, breathe, touch and stretch. We write, whirl, read and pray the Scriptures.

United Church author Donna Sinclair has written, “I believe prayer makes a difference. For one thing, it offers hope. And provides energy to begin the painfully slow steps toward a different world.” A different world is more possible when we have strength to pursue it. I believe prayer strengthens people who pray and those prayed for.

I once visited a Christian community in Washington, D.C., and spent time with street people there. After a communal dinner, a man offered a joyous song I’ve remembered for years: Somebody Prayed for Me. Of the many online versions of Dorothy Norwood’s hymn, this is my favourite. Give it a listen. You’ll want to dance!

Author's photo
Carolyn Pogue is a longtime Observer contributor. New posts of The Pogue Blog will appear on the first and third Thursday of the month. For more information on Carolyn Pogue, visit www.carolynpogue.ca..
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