Prayer has been a part of spiritual worship since the beginning of time. What is prayer? I like to think of it as a conversation with god. As with any conversation, it shouldn’t be one-sided. There are times that we are speaking and there are times that we are listening. Many times, we forget about the listening part. It can be difficult to determine when we are actually hearing the voice of the Divine as opposed to the some other voice such as our Ego.
This is a very basic model and probably not entirely inclusive, but I think there are four basic formats of prayer. These are as follows:
These are the prayers that are part of every organized religion. The Salaat of Islam, the Our Father of Christianity, the formalized Shabat ritual of Judaism. These prayers are suffused with an eternal power and strength from long-use by countless generations. The repetition of them, both by the individual and the communities that perform them, creates a vibrational resonance that creates comfort and performs miracles.
These are the prayers in which we talk to God. Many times we are asking for something that we want – either for ourselves or for others. Sometimes these are known as intercessory (asking for something for others) or petitional (asking for something for ourselves). Many times they are prayers of Thanksgiving and gratitude for our many blessings. Sometimes they are prayers asking for guidance to do the right thing in a particular situation. They are just as the name conveys, conversations with the Divine, the source of ourselves and all that is.
This is a style of prayer that is common in almost every religion and spiritual practice. Usually it is a meditative-type prayer in which a word is repeated over and over again either silently or aloud. In Sufism, this is called Remembrance and it is the name of God, “Allah” that is repeated or “La ilaha ilallah” – meaning there is no God but God. In the Christian form of Centering prayer, it can be any word of your choosing. The purpose of this type of prayer is to clear all of our mundane thoughts and keep focusing on God, Allah, the Divine. It is a very calming sort of prayer. Wayne Dyer mentions that the “AH” sound is the sound of the Creator, hence, all of the names for God in various religions or sacred sounds of various spiritual paths have this sound in them. For example, “ohm”, “Allah”, “God”,”Yahweh”, etc.
This one is more complex but just as, if not more, important than the others. In the other forms of prayer we are communicating or focusing our intentions on something. However, at some point in the “conversation” we need to remember to step back and listen. This can be done in a myriad of ways including silent meditation, mindfulness practices, journaling, dreamwork. Many of us get those flashes from that still, small voice at the least likely moments, such as in the shower or driving to work!
All of these types of prayer serve different functions. I like to incorporate all of them in my daily spiritual practices. It is much like working out your body. You need to do exercises that are cardiovascular in nature to increase your endurance and heart strength, you need to do weight-bearing exercises to keep your muscles strong and you need to do stretching exercises to remain flexible. Some of these types come easier to some of us than others and yet, they are all important.
See if you can commit to a week of doing at least 5 minutes of each of Formal and Centering prayer; and intersperse Conversational and Listening forms throughout your day. You can set a timer a certain period of time to remind yourself to step back and have a conversation with your Divine source.
Of course, don’t be hard on yourself if you find even these few minutes a day difficult. Just remember the words of Meister Eckhart, “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”
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