It is good to pray. There are many ways and many meanings and I shall describe a few. When you organise your living quarters, make sure you include a place for holy things. When you arrange your garden, create places for contemplation that are inviting to yourself and others. It is good to have places for prayer, places that are especially conducive, yet it is also good to pray anytime, wherever you are. Both are good, each in its special way. To create a prayer place is itself a prayer. To enter such a place and stand there at least a moment and feel the presence, is a prayer. Prayer does not have to be words, necessarily. To pause in the midst of a busy day and turn one's mind momentarily to sacred things is similarly holy. Make a habit of prayer and all of life is richer, finer, deeper and more true.
Prayer & Grace
Prayer is not difficult. People of great or little education have been doing it, both deliberately and spontaneously, since time immemorial. Prayer takes many forms, but is an attitude, a direction of mind as well as being something that, like the weather, is always present, but only sometimes imposes itself with force. Prayer involves body, speech and mind and goes beyond them. The best part of prayer is to receive the influence of the Holy into one’s being and one’s life. This is a grace. It cannot successfully be forced or demanded. Basically, one has to be willing. One can do some preparation. It is like gardening: the ground can be prepared and the seed sown, but the action and result are in the hands of a greater power. As Kipling pointed out, the work of the gardener and that of the religious are done mostly on one’s knees.
Learning as One Goes Along
It is good to pray, good for oneself and good for the world, but principally just good, good in itself. It is the deepest point of life and it is good to visit that place as often as one can. Over the years I have gleaned a little about the matter. I hope to encourage others. Let us explore the matter as far as we are able. We can rely upon our own experience and also upon the wisdom given to us by others who have walked this path. Prayer is a path. Many have walked such a path. We can, therefore, learn a great deal from those who have gone before us. However, there is no substitute for experience for it is in experience that the sacred presence speaks and informs one. Formed by angels we are as much as we can be.
Let life be a love affair. We fall in love with something that alone knows its own Name. We give it names and forms as best we can in our attempt to express our longing, our awe, and our reverence. To do so is prayer. The simplest prayer is the Holy Name itself, by whatever form you know it. One may say "Thou," or “Beloved” or “Great Spirit” or whatever. It is the intention that matters. It may be a God or a Buddha, Nature, the Eternal, the Tao - a rose by any other name will smell as sweet, said Shakespeare. The Name is a crucially important part of prayer, but whatever name one uses, one needs a sense that it is only a signpost toward something beyond. The true Name is hidden.
Longing Without Limit
So, a love affair: to love and be loved in return, or, more exactly, to know one is loved and to receive and reflect that love, or, more exactly still, to realise that the longing within us is itself precisely that reflection, already playing its beams of luminescence upon each atom of our being and upon our world. The love affair with the sacred may be placid or tumultuous. Either way, the longing in our hearts knows no limits and brooks no compromise, even though we often may struggle against it.
A Few Words
So turn toward the sacred in whatever way you understand it. Surrender, at least a little. Say the name that you know. Say whatever words may come to your heart: "Be here for us all," "Aid me now," "I love you," "You are the Truth, the Love and the Light," "Give us this day our daily bread," "Please stay until samsara ceases," "Turn the wheel of Dharma for us," whatever. Or, simply wait in silence and let grace enter.
A Few Actions
A modicum or more of ritual helps. Choose a stone with some care - one that speaks to you in some way. Hold the stone in your hand as you pray, then place that stone in a special place, perhaps upon a little altar of some kind. That stone is now a sacred object. The divine will be reflected in it. Simply to look upon it, touch it or hold it will be prayer.
A Few Moments
Whatever expression we give to this love is prayer. Whatever moments we spend appreciating this love is prayer. The love is reflected in us, but it comes from beyond. Prayer extends us toward that beyond. It is to open one's hands and heart to receive. In whatever manner, it is good to pray.