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Prayer -- Rev Dr. Linda Anderson

I am a Unitarian Universalist minister with a Buddhist meditation practice in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Zen Master. Neither of my faith communities has a standard or fixed liturgical practice of prayer as such. The words of poet Mary Oliver resonate with me: “I don’t know where prayers go,/or what they do.” (from “I Happened To Be Standing”) Yet I have been thinking about prayer lately in terms of three questions: What does it mean to pray? How do I do it? What purpose does prayer serve?  Here are some of my attempts at answers to those questions; answers which are highly personal and not intended to tell anyone else how to experience prayer.
I believe in an unnamable life force, which some call God and others call by many other names. I believe there is something, some mystery, far larger than me that I am but a small part of.  Prayer is a form of communication with that mystery. At the same time prayer is grounded in my experience of living. Prayer is an expression, at times a spontaneous expression, of my deepest responses to life.  “For some it (prayer) is a conversation, a speaking to God, (however one understands that word); for others it is speaking to oneself; and for still others it is speaking aloud – to all who are gathered together, or to no one in particular." (Pat Hoertdoerfer) In all cases prayer is a relational act, between the one who prays, the ones who are prayed for and the ones who are prayed to.
How do I pray? How do I help myself to commune with that mystery? I meditate. I try to listen to the silence within to find what is in my heart and to respond to it. Out of the silence I hope to find the words that will both describe and illuminate my understanding of what I experience. How do I pray? I pray when I consciously send the energy of goodwill to others. How do I pray? I pray when I respond to the world with awe and gratitude. I understand that in order to do this, I need to pay attention.

The power of prayer lies in its ability to help me feel connected. It opens my heart. The communicating, relational nature of prayer helps me deeply experience the interconnectedness of life. Prayer for me is experiential. And when I experience it, it can be a deep source of joy, a deep source of comfort, a deep source of hope, a deep source of love. I feel the power of connection and I intuit that goodness, peace, and compassion are possible if I can live in a way that respects and acknowledges our interdependence. To paraphrase Chief Seattle, when I know that what I do to the web of life I do to myself, I will take more care with the web. When I believe in our connections, I believe that what I do matters. That changes me and the energy of my changes ripples out and touches others. Prayer, I realize, takes me into the stream of interdependence which is foundational to life and that is a mighty place indeed.

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