The more posts I read here on OS, the more I get that my tone is all wrong. Or perhaps it’s my topic. Who wants to read about prayer and meditation these days anyway? There’s just too much other stuff going on that’s taking up all the oxygen. Heck, it’s taking up my oxygen when I need the precious little I have for my longish hikes up this mountain side where I’m currently living.
As I walk along I try to keep my eyes focused outside my body on the trees, roots, and leaves. I need to watch out for the tree snags that lie in wait to grab my boot or the soft puddle of leaves camouflaging the next sinkhole. Eventually my breathing becomes less forced, more steady, and I risk a long upward glance at the sky -- the bewitching blue hills telling me I’m not in Iowa anymore. And then…something else begins to move in me. Some words come to mind, a flutter of consonants, an opening of vowels. Dear…God…I am here….my little prayer might begin. And the mind downshifts into its soft, chuttering gear.
Prayer is great. It’s good for you. It builds a new kind of muscle. It’s a little bit weird, too, of course—talking to some guy in the sky. Meditation is much easier, more hip, less personal, no god in the sky image or metaphor. But, but….here’s what I’ll say about prayer, keeping in mind I speak entirely from my own experience and have no prayer recipe for anyone… Prayer involves words.
Prayer means ‘wording’ something to something or someone that is not yourself though it may in the beginning, until some sort of connection is made, certainly feel like yourself. I also think prayer is a bit like writing poetry, my earlier vocation. Prayer brings a similar feeling as one digs deeper and deeper into ones innermost thoughts and feelings. Similarly, I find that both composing poems and making prayer entail having some “other” in mind as the words begin to take on a life of their own.
Meditation, on the other hand, doesn’t need an ‘other’. As a matter of fact “others’ merely get in the way and can stop the whole process. So, with meditation, no others on board, please. With prayer, best to have an “other” (real or imagined) waiting in the wings.
The way I see it, meditation can be either a prelude to prayer—a way to calm ourselves before inviting some activity from the divine as we name it. Or the deep and generative silence of meditation can be an end in itself. But after many years of my own TM practice, I came to a place where I wanted to address that divine silence growing up within and around me. I needed to reach down and greet it. Thus it is that I began my so-called prayer life.
At first it felt a bit awkward, forced even, of the “now I lay me down to sleep” variety. Comforting, soothing, sweet in its own way, but also a little bit false. The meditation was a far deeper, more satisfying experience.
So then I tried, instead just out of the blue launching into prayer gear, I made sure I began by settling down much as I would in meditation. From that quiet place, once I took my foot off brake, prayers would come almost automatically. The words were not anything special, at least not a first. Just a sort of ‘hello…’ flung down into the silent grooves of my own consciousness. Gradually, over time as this process began to feel more natural to me, they took on more form and substance. But I wanted to learn more about this prayer thing, so I did what I always do.
I began reading books on prayer. I fell in love with some, reading and re-reading them as they began to teach me. Other books (there are just so darned many) that I found less satisfying got dropped in that bundle of papers and discarded reading behind the bed. What I mean to say here is I learned that we each have our own way into the prayer world and what works for some is mere discarded reading for others.
Making a long story short, bit by bit I found my own comfort level with prayer. Following the daily office from the Book of Common Prayer was a sweet and easy entrance into the beautiful language I loved as a child and still loved as an adult as were Phyllis Tickle’s seasonal books of The Daily Office.
In the end, I’d say from this humble vantage point, a newbie to adult prayer life, both meditation and prayer serve us in our seeking. Surely those who pray, in which I now include myself, find many of the benefits of meditation including comfort, solace, quietness plus something else besides.
Like the nice gentleman informed me last Sunday as he re-opened the church for me “to stay awhile” (having missed service by one hour due to my daylight savings dyslexia), so I might just “sit and talks things out” -- prayer is the place to take our measly selves to and find good, good company. Meditation seems to me now the perfect invitation to prayer as well as the other way around, prayer the best invitation to meditation. Each serves the other. My life would be far less complete without both.