5 Interfaith Ways to Pray
After last Sunday’s Gospel reading, our pastor, the Rev. Peter J.B. Carman commissioned all of us with choosing one of two tasks. He asked us to draw a picture of how we perceive God or draw a picture of how we perceive prayer. The children’s excitement was palpable; the adults’ gasps were full of dread.
How do you perceive God? How do you perceive prayer?
These are two of the most personal elements of a faith journey.
And, If you’ve lived a few years, these wonderings are textured and complex, precious and personal, contestable and controversial.
God and prayer can look like anything and everything.
My mother once told me that her childhood perception of God was of an old man who wore a swimming intertube around his waist. Attached to it were the nozzles you’d find on a water spicket, which he twisted on and off to control the weather.
Howard Be Thy Name
I love my mother’s weatherman God, and we’ve all giggled at how children grow up assuming that God’s name is Howard, as in “Howard be thy name.”
If you were raised in the Christian church, the Lord’s prayer may have been one of the first ways you began to perceive prayer. Eye closed, head bowed, and hands folded—you gleaned bits and pieces from the adults. You imagined that God’s real name was Howard, and that “snot and temptation” (as in, “lead us not into temptation”) was mixed in somewhere.
Then you learned to read and you rediscovered the prayer—which was both thrilling and disappointing—because you realized God’s name was not Howard, and there was no snot in sight.
How do you pray, and to whom to you pray? The answer is as unique as you.
5 Interfaith Ways to Pray
Prayer was one of the first interfaith challenges Fred and I faced in our Christian-Hindu relationship. In Saffron Cross, I share the story of how we discovered our intrinsically different approaches to prayer over of a plate of eggplant parmesan.
Fred prays with japa beads; I pray extemporaneously. Fred prays silently; I pray aloud. Fred repeats mantras given to him by his guru; I prattle on to God about anxieties, longing for spiritual growth, and struggling loved ones.
Is one right and other wrong?
Any approach to God is a good approach. Being married to a devout Hindu who formerly lived as a monk has has taught me that there are a million perfect ways to pray.
Here are some of my favorite interfaith ways to pray that can be adapted for any faith framework:
1. Talking as prayer: extended, loud conversations with God during a daily commute.
2. Writing as prayer: lists, journaling, and stream-of-consciousness writing (the Morning Pages).
3. Movement as prayer: helping others, providing service, hugging, yoga, dancing, bike riding, car riding, and walking.
4. Stillness as prayer: meditation, napping, and staring at every leaf on a tree or tile on a ceiling.
5. Reading as prayer: settling in with your chosen Scripture or spiritual writing. Some of my favorites: The HarperCollins Study Bible (NRSV), and Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals by Jonathan Wilson-Hargrove, Enuma Okoro, and Shane Claiborne; Help, Thanks, Wow by Anne Lamott; The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton; The Way of a Pilgrim by Anonymous.
How do you pray? Please share your experiences in the comments section below.