Prayer is the
assumed, proper means for contacting and receiving messages
from (the) God (of your understanding).
Accordingly, prayer is a good topic for us as spiritual-religious adults to have some knowledge of. Below is the Rabbi Brian take on the whole prayer thing…
How To Find Out What (The) God (Of Your Understanding) Wants from You
Before we analyze what prayer is, should be and how we can do it properly, here is my favorite joke about prayer:
man driving, late for an important meeting, can’t find a parking spot.
He circles the block, curses his timing, then decides to pray, “God, if
you give me a parking spot, I’ll turn my life around.” Just then, he
sees the perfect parking spot, exactly in front of him. “Never mind,
God,” he says, “I got one.”
There are three types of prayers:
1) Petition prayers
2) Praise prayers
3) Presence prayers
derivation of the English word “prayer” might be partly to blame for
the fact that we usually think of prayer as petition. The English word “prayer” comes
from the Latin precari – “to request.”
are on both sides of the “efficacy of petition prayer” debate. Some
seem certain that prayer affects reality, while others are certain that
prayer does not affect reality. (Certainty means that you are certain,
not that you’re right or wrong.)
are double-blind studies showing that mold, when “prayed for,” grows
faster than mold that has not been prayed for. And, there are double-blind studies in which mold, when “prayed for” doesn’t grow
Either way, believing that petition prayers get answered leads to deep theological problems:
2) Is prosperity synonymous with God’s favor?
usual answer to the first question can feel like the wool is being
pulled over your eyes: God did answer, but chose – for a wiser reason,
obviously – not to grant what was wished for. (We can easily understand
why a parent wouldn’t give a toddler a piece of poison no matter how
much the child begged for it. But, this logic doesn’t hold water with
other adult examples like disease and genocide.)
only answer I like to the second question is something I heard said by
Dan-the-God-Man, a street preacher: “You can tell the people who God
has blessed because they have a smile on their face.” God’s blessings
aren’t material things.
purpose of praise prayers is to shout out a commendation to God and to
acknowledge how good we have it. “How blessed are we,” is an example of
the beginning of a praise prayer.
So are gratitude lists. (Incidentally, the health benefits of gratitude lists are incontrovertible.)
coolest thing about a well-formed praise prayer is the little high you
get after reciting it. At the risk of being a pusher, let me suggest
that we try one now.
I want you to notice your mood now before we start.
As you fill in the blanks (either on a print out or a separate page), watch what happens to your mood and attitude. Keep in mind that your mood is supposed to spike upwards a little. This doesn’t always happen, so watch to see what happens for you in this moment.
-I am joyful that I can
-I am glad that I have
-I am thankful for
Did you do it? Good. You have just written three praise prayers.
you want extra-credit, see if you can answer the same three questions
but this time using the word God. I thank God that I can _____, I thank
God that I have _____, I thank God for _____.
If you want to really “go for the gold” (Olympic reference to keep this spiritual-religious stuff topical), raise the bar even
higher and try addressing (the) God (of your understanding) in the second person: Thank you, God, that I can _____, thank you, God,
that I have _____, thank you, God, for _____.
a gratitude list is a wonderful thing to do right before falling asleep
and immediately upon waking up. Such a list reminds you of things you
have and are grateful for, as opposed to what you are scared of and
Moreover, the attitude of gratitude is contagious and is said to attract good things.
The truest form of prayer is this last type of prayer: the prayer of being present.
Presence prayer is the hands down best way of contacting and receiving contact from God – however you choose to understand God.
we get into that, let me ask you: Have you ever found yourself blabbing
on someone’s voicemail? You’re just talking without realizing what you
are saying. It comes out as a live stream of subconscious rambling. You
think you’re being concise but then realize you were just spewing out
That free flowing experience is similar to the true form of a present prayer, minus the answering machine.
about any good soliloquy, which occurs when a character is torn over
what to do. The character feels troubled, but in the course of talking
through their problems, they attain some resolution.
soliloquy might be an act of “experiencing conscious contact with a
Higher Power” or “being present in life as it unfolds.” Or it could be
“an act of attempting to contact (the) God (of your understanding).” A
presence prayer is the feeling of having spent a few moments in God’s
presence. It’s somewhat conscious, somewhat unconscious – and never
goes exactly the way you thought it would go.
prayer – conscious contact with God – is not about feeling good or
asking for things. It’s about being present. It’s about being in the
here and now. It’s not asking God to change anything. It’s not thanking
God or thinking. It’s just being.
Here are a few of my favorite quotes about this real kind of prayer:
is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is daily admission of
one’s weakness… It is better in prayer to have a heart without words
than words without a heart. -Mohandas Gandhi
- Prayer does not change God, but it changes him or her who prays. -Sören Kierkegaard
- The issue of prayer is not prayer; the issue of prayer is God. -Abraham Joshua Heschel
Real prayers of presence require humility and surrender.
is saying, “I am not enough. I need help. I cannot do it alone. I do
not know what will happen.” It takes humility to go to this place of
helplessness and unknowing. Surrender is linked to this. It’s knowing
that the answer you receive – while it might not be one you wanted to
hear – might be the real answer.
Finally, there is one more quote I want to share. It’s one of my favorite quotes in the world. It is a quote from Tayfur Abu Yazid Al-Bistami, the 9th century Persian Sufi. This marvelous quote speaks to humility, surrender, and the nature of presence prayer.
years, I would say, ‘Do this’ and ‘Give me that.’ When I reached the
shores of wisdom, I said, ‘God, be mine and do what You want.’
prayers are about being where you are, when you are there. I find
toddlers to be wonderful role models for being present in life as it
happens. They are unconstrained by the adult worry of what others will
think of them.
In my opinion, when you are here – and just doing what you are supposed to be doing – that is a most beautiful presence prayer.
don’t need to believe in an active, external God to understand what I’m
saying here. Of course, you might and you can, but you don’t have to.)
presence prayer to happen, we need to carve out some space. We must
create a safe space where we don’t feel like we have to get all the
words right, and where we can allow ourselves to tolerate our humanity.
In this safe place, we can tolerate the mistakes we’ve made in our
lives. If we do not create a space containing these qualities,
transformation is not likely.
there are far fewer “suppose to’s” involved with praying a presence
prayer than you probably thought. Hands clasped together or eyes closed
are not requirements. (Rumor has it that they aren’t even required for
petition and praise prayers.)
The following truth about prayer is one I like a lot: You don’t even have to like your prayer.
It’s just about you attempting contact with God; no promise you’ll connect or even like it.
How to Pray
out by naming God with whatever name you choose to name that which
cannot be named: “Higher Power,” “HaShem,” “Jesus,” “Allah,” “Goddess,”
“Jehovah,” “Tao,” “Mother,” etc. You don’t have to always use the same
your active mind, do a quick survey of how you feel, giving attention
to your physical body, your thoughts, and your emotions.
- Repeat the name you’ve chosen for God.
- Make a few full sentences in your heart or aloud, directed outside of your self.
- Optional: say, “Amen.”
– Amen is said to be related to the Hebrew root word for “faith.” It is
customarily said as an expression of agreement at the end of a prayer.
I will ask you in a moment to try this.
might not feel like something you want to do. And you might have some
good reasons why you wouldn’t, shouldn’t, or don’t want to.
I grew up in a culturally Jewish household and got the impression that
prayers to God should be in Hebrew, from a book, and only said at their
proper times. Rabbinical school furthered in me the notion that prayers
were non-English, non-spontaneous, and time sensitive. I know how
awkward this can feel.
I understand that if you have never improvised or said a presence prayer, it may feel awkward.
if part of your self-image includes the notion that you’re not the type
of person who prays (granted that you didn’t know what prayer was
really about when you set that rule), this exercise will probably feel
On the positive side, why would you not want to try this?
me tell you what you have to gain: a sense of yourself, a sense of your
relationship to (the) God (of your understanding), possibly both, and
perhaps some notion of what it is that God – howsoever you might
understand that word – might want from you.
So, let’s give it a whirl right now:
- Name God.
- Survey yourself physically, emotionally, and mentally.
- Rename God.
- Say a few things.
- Optional: say, “Amen.”
This week’s spiritual-religious advice: Pray, not for stuff, but to be present.
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