Several years ago, I was in a restaurant and someone at the table said, "Well, at least you won't pray before dinner!" I laughed and said, "That is where you are wrong. I always give thanks before I eat!" When our plates arrived, I paused, opened the palms of my hands toward my food, bowed my head and said a silent prayer of thanks. Offering thanks acknowledges that the plate of food in front of me is a blessing. Soil was nurtured by sun and rain. People labored to grow, harvest, and prepare the food. A chain of being brought bounty to our table. So many people have little or nothing. I give constant thanks for what I have.
This person assumed that because I was Pagan I would not pray, despite the fact that pagans throughout history have done so: Sappho, Socrates, Enheduanna, and Cato all gifted us with prayers. Prayers to Amun-Ra, Aphrodite, Andraste, Inanna, Freyja, and Pan have been recorded. These are prayers of honoring, imploring, invocation, blessing, and thanks. There is ample evidence, too, of offerings made by the people to the Forces barely knowable, as well as those that feel closer to home.
To be honest, though, prayer was a word I needed to reclaim for myself as part of my spiritual practice. It was a word that had become loaded with suppositions from my Catholic upbringing. What is prayer supposed to be? I had to figure that out for myself. I needed to change my relationship to prayer, as I had been trained toward supplication, and of feeling lesser than what was considered to be divine. As I grew in my Pagan practice, I learned to stand tall, head held high. I learned to comprehend that my life was an important part of the unfolding pattern of the cosmos. God Hirself flowed through Nature, and through me, and through any God or Goddess-form that I cared to name (though my particular theology is the topic for another time).
For me, prayer is a form of connection. Whether that connection is to deity, to the cosmos, or to something else doesn't really matter. What matters to me, and makes a difference in my life, is the practice of presence that prayer brings. Prayer is a pause. A re-centering. Prayer is a remembrance that I am not alone and that my life is supported by a web of existence. I want to pay homage to that web, and to give thanks.
These days, my prayers are not ones of supplication, or of asking. Prayer has become a way of steering myself toward stillness inside and then moving from that still place outward, into gratitude and the honoring of all that is.
Without gratitude, our lives are lost. Without centering within and around stillness, it becomes difficult to deepen. We numb ourselves. We run away. We forget. Prayer brings us back into relationship with the moment, with ourselves, our Gods or Goddesses, with the glory of Earth and galaxy, with the sacred in all things.
We are situated in the midst of one another, and a multitude of other forces larger and smaller than our selves, whether or not we name them. Through all of this, in my experience, flows a connective tissue, a thing that causes peptide to reach for peptide, the trees to root in soil, and humans to offer hands toward one another, and to dream of distant stars.
Author's Note: I capitalize Pagan in reference to myself because there is a contemporary movement that uses this term as an umbrella for our religious expressions. We are called, variably, by our affiliations with our co-religionists and may be members of: Gardnerian Wicca, Hrafnar, The Open Source Order of the Golden Dawn, Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, Reclaiming, and many other groups. I use lower case pagan when speaking of the ancients. I also currently capitalize Gods and Goddesses, despite it not being strictly grammatically correct. I do this because many people call on the Christian, Muslim, or Jewish conception of divinity by using the word God as a proper name. In placing God next to goddesses, however, one can easily see that the capitalization of one and not the other gives the former more weight, authority, and legitimacy. I also capitalize Nature, because it is a prime expression of the divine. The term God Herself came from one of my teachers - Victor H. Anderson. In recent years, I have shifted the spelling to the gender neutral Hir.