Monday, 1 March 2010

Prayer as performance or connection?

The subject of prayer came up the other day. Someone commented that because I never seem to set aside time for regular, visible prayer, they concluded that I do not pray. The fact is I pray throughout the day, but silently. I pray in gratitude, in awe, in need and just to connect, for lack of a better word.

Then this morning, I read a section in the book "The Seventh Telling" by Mitchell Chefitz (excellent book BTW. I HIGHLY recommend it!) The characters were talking about formal prayer.

We have this little disagreement about vocabulary. It's not that I don't appreciate prayer, but for me prayer is a cultural thing. It can be beautiful, even meaningful. But it's performance. It's not something that works. At best, it entertains and makes you feel good.

And that got me thinking. Who is prayer for? Formal prayer or informal prayer? Who or what is the intended "audience?"

Some people I know who pray out loud and only in specific words and often in specific places, say that prayer is to remind them of G-d. And to remind them to do (or not do) certain things. Others have said that such prayer is mandated by G-d, and that to not use the standard words or forms is to violate the guidelines G-d set down.

And if you are among those, please forgive me for what I am about to say. If it is for you, or for G-d, why is it out loud and obvious? Surely, G-d has no need to "hear" audible words. S/he can "hear" our silent petitions and thoughts of wonder and or need. And we ourselves can express our thoughts, needs, hopes, feelings, gratitude to G-d silently, and still be as aware we are doing it.

And whether prayer is for the petitioner or for G-d, wouldn't sincere words from a person's heart and soul, spoken or silent, be far more meaningful than canned text written by someone else years, centuries or thousands of years ago?

Isn't there a certain element of ego in praying so that others can see and hear that you are praying? At least a bit of "See, I'm religious. See?"

Your thoughts?


Anonymous said...

"Others have said that such prayer is mandated by G-d . . ."

Not mandated by G-d. Mandated by the Rabbis.

Question: Who will be the authority in the new religious paradigm if not the Rabbis / Priests / Imams . . ? If not prayer to open ourselves to the Divine, then what?

Seeker said...

Dear Anon...

Consider this...were we to speak to the people we love in life only or almost only in words and phrases and formulas written by someone else, in a time and place far from our own lives, how meaningful would that communication be? Limited to only (or mostly) formulaic structures, communication would be reduced to nothing more than endless repetition. And our real feelings, needs, experiences, etc would never be expressed. And if we had to utter these prewritten statements in conjunction with others who were saying the exact same thing at the exact same useless that would be.

How much more so should our communication with G-d, our creator, be real and personal and accurate??? And private. Prayer would not cease. Only public mouthing of someone else's needs/feelings. And that could only be a good thing.

Seeker said...

Example...I want to express love now, but the book says it's time to express sorrow and regret. Or someone I care for needs to hear words of comfort, but the schedule says we all now stand and recite a message about travel. Useless. Or worse.

JKKseeks said...

Seeker - (sorry, I wrote a book down here...)

I totally get your POV.

It seems you desire for others to have deep intimacy with God but: 1) you doubt that outdated, formulaic, by-the-book prayers are effective, or 2) you doubt the motives of the praying believer particularly if they pray out loud.

I used to feel strongly that silent prayer from the heart was best because I'm quiet, introspective & creative. But not everyone is like me. Someone like my uber-extroverted, talkaholic, always-on-the-run brother would fall asleep in 60 seconds flat. He needs movement, noise, speech when he worships & prays.

You speak from your heart and it works for YOU. IMO prayer & worship is not one size fits all. And why should it be? God made us all different. Why shouldn't we all have different ways to reach Him?

As for God not needing to hear audible words, I offer personal anecdotal evidence. The prayers I pray out loud are for God AND help ME. The prayers others wrote (including scripture) that I read aloud are for God AND help ME.

I use different approaches at different times. I had a long season of going inward. Now I need to hear the words. Read them silently AND hear them. So I do all of the above. I pray from my heart silently and out loud, read the prayers of others, read scripture. Truth told, I never thought praying out loud would be more effective - but I'm finding it IS. For me at this time - it is.

By the way, isn't there a certain element of ego in your assumption that your way is right but others who differ may only be posturing?

Enjoy your blog.