Please... please.. please... I whispered the words softly, quietly.
As I stood in the bridal suite, ready to step out to a church filled with family and friends where my soon-to-be-husband was standing at the altar, I breathed those simple words.
Please. Please. Please. I chanted the words silently, but strongly.
Part prayer, part mantra meditation, the words held a sea of emotions, hopes and fears. It was a not a prayer for divine intervention, but rather an appeal for serenity, strength and mindfulness.
Please... Please don't let me trip walking down the aisle. Please don't let me break into uncontrollable sobbing. Please let my husband feel as sure about this day as I am.
Please... Please let this be more than just the wedding I dreamed of, but also the marriage that we both deserve. Please make us family. Please give me strength. Please give us strength... Please.
Please... Such a simple, but profound prayer. As I recited the words in sighs and whispers, the clouds of nervousness, anxiety and worry parted. The rays of strength, confidence, hopefulness and faith shone down. Grace settled around me and within me.
Prayer is one of the most basic spiritual practices and has been shown to improve calmness, by strengthening brain regions that foster compassion and by calming brain regions linked to fear and anger. Nonetheless, it has not always been something that has come naturally to me. I often struggled to come up the "right" words, to find the appropriate venue for authentic prayer, and to even know what to pray for. Prayer, to me, was something reserved for the enlightened ones -- those whose faith transcended human mental capacities. I, on the other hand, was clumsy. My prayers seemed to come out as feeble stutters, rather than eloquent prose and poetic odes.
Like many spiritual practices and religious activities, prayer is a thorny and sticky issue. There are several questions and uncertainties surrounding the purpose and efficacy of prayer. Many prayers go unanswered. One person's prayer is answered to the detriment of another's. Parents of sick children plead for the health of their child only to see them ultimately succumb to their illness. Sports fans pray for their team to win with the opponent emerging victorious. Job applicants pray for an interview or job offer, yet remain unemployed.
The world is awash with unanswered prayers. Is God more receptive to some prayers than others? Are those prayers that go unanswered any less valid? Do those whose prayers are answered pray louder, pray properly or pray more efficiently?
For many years, prayer remained an elusive spiritual practice to me, until I got down to basics and stripped prayer of its stereotypes and ceremony. Much like we could benefit from the reexamination of the definition and role of religion, we could also benefit from a more holistic and authentic approach to prayer. Elizabeth Lesser, cofounder of the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies, writes:
The only thing we can really ask for when we pray is the ability to trust in [the] greater purpose. We pray to have our hearts opened and our purpose revealed. We pray for gratitude when our life is good and for faith when it is not so good. We pray to trust that our pain is a gift with "a very, very specific purpose."
To pray is to let go of our belief that we are in control of our life, and to give it over to something more inclusive than our own point of view. It requires a leap of faith. Even if we have only the slightest sense that a higher power is at work in the world, we can still pray. We can name that gossamer belief 'God' or not. We can pray to God or to our own larger perspective -- the part of us that trusts in the meaningfulness of life.
Prayer is more than a wish list bestowed on some might-be-or-might-not-be-existent creator. Prayer is more than pleas to a divine puppet master who pulls the strings on humanity. Prayer is more than communication with the divine.
Prayer is the thoughtful communication with oneself and the acknowledgement of a cosmic force that is greater than oneself. For me, prayer is the intentional act of opening my heart, laying bare my soul, and creating space for Grace to enter my mind and my actions. Prayer is the creation of positive energy -- whether gratitude, aspiration or hopefulness -- within my mind so that the energy can be generated into my actions and the outside world. Prayer is the mindful attention to my heart's longing and the opening of internal space so that I can hear what my intuition is telling me. Prayer is the permission to feel a universal connection with humanity and the rest of the world.
While prayer does not always come easy to me, and I seem to resort to prayer more in times of want than in times of plenty, it is beginning to take a more active and authentic role in my spiritual life. I pray at church and I pray with my children before dinner. But I also pray when I fold laundry. I pray while I'm driving in the car, schlepping my kids from one activity to the next. I pray when I write. I pray when I kiss my kids goodnight.
I pray for patience, for perspective, for guidance. I pray for love, for kindness, for generosity. I pray for hope, for sanguinity, for tranquility. And when my prayers focus on these authentic and purposeful intentions, I find that they are always met with Grace regardless of the outcome. Just like they were when I said that simple prayer -- please...please...please -- all those years ago on my wedding day.
May Grace be with you and may all your prayers be answered.