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Elizabeth Cunningham

Elizabeth Cunningham

Posted: May 19, 2010 01:41 PM

Becoming a Prayer

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We usually think of praying as something we do and a prayer as something we say or perhaps read, aloud or silently. But if a singer is one who sings, a writer one who writes, a dancer one who dances, and so forth, we could say that a prayer is one who prays. If we pray, we are prayers.

The daughter of an Episcopal priest, I grew up with the sonorous, sometimes terrifying language of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. From the General Confession this phrase has always stayed with me. "We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickednesses." (I still love that plural.)

Quaker Meeting was my first experience of silent corporate prayer. In what I called "the womb of silence," different images of the divine emerged, especially feminine ones. In time, longing for music and ritual led me out of Quaker Meeting to form a non-institutional, earth-centered community. At length I also became an ordained interfaith minister.

Here are some things I have learned/am learning about praying/being a prayer:

If you pray for someone (or something), prepare to be part of the answer.

Raging at the divine is fine. Go for it at the top of your lungs. Exhaust yourself. Then...listen.

Help! Help! is a good prayer. The answer may come in bizarre (often humorous) forms. Be alert.

You can pray with your body; you can pray with your breath; you can pray with your touch; you can pray with your presence.

Singing and dancing and drumming can be prayers.

Aligning with the elements, the waxing and waning moon and sun, the seasons of the earth, the plants and animals is prayer.

Gratitude and kindness are always prayers.

You do not have to have a belief system to pray. You do not have to have a fixed opinion about where the divine resides or if the divine as a noun exists. All our words and images are metaphors to help us connect with the mystery, the intimately known and unknown.

Writing a novel can be a prayer. Dreaming can be prayer. Cooking can be prayer. Eating can be prayer. Making love can be prayer. This list could go on and on.

A recent experience of prayer:

Something I am calling "world sorrow," for lack of another term, when the boundaries between you and "all that is" disappear for a time, and you sorrow with the earth, as the earth. Many people have become this kind of prayer during the oil spill disaster and other world sorrows.

A recent definition of prayer from my tai chi teacher who also teaches shamanic practice:

"When you pray for someone you become, for a moment, the creator."

I remember those moments when I have seen someone without the filter of my hopes or concerns for them, which can all too easily take on the tinge of judgment or control. Those moments are startling, illuminating, humbling.

Praying without ceasing:

If we become prayers, we can. If we become prayers, we are.

 

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