I started really praying about 12 years ago when an acquaintance's 25-year-old son died in a car accident. He had fallen asleep while driving to a new job. He'd had a longer drive that day because he was taking care of his father, who had recently had a heart attack. I'm not sure why, but I told his mother, "You and your family are in my prayers." I hadn't been praying at the time, but to make what I said true, I started praying.
When I pray now, I mostly express gratitude. I give thanks:
- for the wonderful and challenging things that happened that day
- for healing those who are sick (I picture people I know who are ill and visualize them whole, healthy, and happy)
- for comfort coming to those who are suffering (especially people who have recently lost a loved one)
- for being able to embody certain qualities I admire (being authentic, loving, courageous, etc.)
I finish with a Heart Meditation where I think of something that makes me smile, this is usually something silly my children have done recently. Then keeping that image in my mind, I breathe deeply into my solar plexus and say, "Heart Focus," (take a breath), "Heart Breathing," (take a breath), "Heart Appreciation."
I don't pray to anyone in particular. I believe there's an energy that flows through all things. I believe that since everything is made of atoms that are simply vibrating at different frequencies, at some level, everything and everyone is connected, and we all influence each other. I understand very little about quantum mechanics or "unified field theory," but clearly, I'm not the only person who thinks this.
In "Eat, Pray, Love" Elizabeth Gilbert quotes her friend Iva, 'Where do you get the idea you aren't allowed to petition the universe with prayer? You are part of this universe, Liz. You're a constituent - you have every entitlement to participate in the actions of the universe, and to let your feelings be known.'
Do I really believe that praying for my friend who has cancer will directly shrink her cancer cells? No, but I think by telling her that I'm praying for her, bringing meals to her family, and checking in with her to keep her mood up, she remembers that she's part of a larger group of people who care a whole lot about her, and her immune system hopefully steps up and helps her respond to the surgery and chemotherapy that do directly kill the cancer cells.
Ricky Gervais got a lot of flak for criticizing celebrities who were tweeting about sending prayers to the victims of the Oklahoma tornadoes. He tweeted, "I feel like an idiot now … I only sent money." I think it's possible to both pray and to help directly, (by donating money, food, time, etc.) They're not mutually exclusive. Nor is prayer right for every person. It's just another tool to bring the possibility of good into our lives.
Please write in the comments whether you think prayer is helpful and/or how else you cope with being unable to help others directly.