Prayer is not easy. It is difficult and requires from us great personal effort and sacrifice. Mostly this is so because our ego (our own sense of right-ness and superiority, our sense of uniqueness and specialness) gets in the way of truly receiving the gift of silence that is the heart of prayerful presence. But here is an example of how to pray.
First, set aside 15-20 minutes and find a silent place where you can just sit and listen with as few distractions as possible.
Second, the prayer of listening is just that: breathe. Just listen. Set an alarm on your phone to relieve the anxiety of knowing when to stop. Just sit and relax. Of course as soon as you actually stop and try to listen to the voice inside yourself, a million mind-monkeys will explode with chatter. These monkeys are your ego-fragments demanding attention. Every distraction possible will start flowing through your mind. This is what makes prayer difficult. But don’t fight the mind-monkeys. You have to learn to simply move past them and allow their chatter to fall behind you as you breathe in and breathe out.
To do so, wisdom teachers have encouraged us to use a sacred word. Often, folks use the name of God: Yahweh, Allah, Jesus, Creator or Spirit. But one can also use words like “beauty,” “calm,” “beloved” or any word that offers you hope and stillness. Whatever your sacred word is, just breathe it in and breathe it out. For example, when the monkeys start chattering simply start chanting your sacred word. As you breathe in just say the word “beauty,” as you breathe out say the word “calm.” Do this repeatedly as you breathe in and out until the other chatter fades away. The more you practice this, the easier it becomes to move past the distractions.
There is no magic to this prayer. But with intention and continued practice you discover, over a short period of time, that the monkeys are not as present, and that something within you, which I call God, is yearning to make contact. This something is a presence of benevolence and compassion. It offers an inner guidance, and functions as an inner friend who yearns to make contact with us. When we listen to this silence we hear the words that free us, that sustain us and empower us. We are strengthened to become compassionate and kind and courageous.
I think in times of outrage, like our current time, prayer is the first step toward confronting and healing the hostility that is harming us. I encourage you to simply try it. Give it a week of practice. See what happens within, and watch what happens around you.
Rev. Rich Lang is the district superintendent of the United Methodist Church in King County. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more Faith, Culture & Politics columns by Lang.
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