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How to Pray

What is prayer? Is there a right way to do it? A wrong way? Who am I actually talking to, when I pray? Is that Who listening? Does anything change after I’ve prayed or does it go how it would have gone without my prayer?

I think people have so many different answers to these questions. My belief is that prayer is a conversation with God. That statement, however, is as deep as it is brief. One angle to scrutinize is “Who is God?” in which we could discuss for days all the roles that God fulfills in our individual lives and on the grand scale of the universe, scripturally and personally. A topic for another time.

No, today, let’s focus on Prayer.

Prayer, to me, is often an upload. A silent, quiet, or loud conversation in which I am basically expressing a journal entry of how my day went, what my thoughts were, how I felt about it… etc. Sometimes, I am tearfully requesting something that may actually be impossible, but the practice of letting this desire out is healing in some way. Other times, I’m wordless and I just want to be in the presence of God, like how I silently spend time with my husband and it feels no less like bonding than an exclusive date together. And more times than I should probably admit, I ask God for something in earnest, and I deeply hope and freely open for the opportunity to receive what I’ve asked for, trusting that God will act in my best interest (even when it’s in my best interest not to receive that thing.)

But then, there are the times when I feel that there’s some kind of download, like HaShem Himself is impressing a thought, desire, or feeling upon me. This still feels like prayer, only a conversation instigated by the Divine, instead. Usually, when this happens, I ask something like, “HaShem? Was that from You?” And eventually, if not right away, the truth is revealed by what I call a “second witness”. (This is a term from within the Torah itself where it’s written that no judgment can be made on the account of one witness, there must be two or more witnesses in order for a decision to be carried out.)

Some think there is a wrong way to pray. Some think you need to have a certain posture, be in a certain place, at a certain time, offer a certain thing first, say only certain words, or only certain people can say prayers that God will hear. But when I set myself aside and look only at scripture, I see an adulterer writing poetry in a cave. I see a broken widower, childless father, wailing, confused and angry. I see a man in a fish, stinking and slimy. A foreign woman on the desert floor. A baby crying in hunger and thirst. Was there a prerecorded prayer for the appearance of a well in the desert? Was there some kind of holy patriarch hiding in the fish with Jonah, praying on his behalf? Not that we know of. Yet, HaShem not only listened to their prayers, but acted in response. Later on in these stories, God even tends to outright say, “Because you called Me/cried out, [I did this or that]…”

Now, don’t get me wrong. Sometimes using someone else’s words in a prayer, or agreeing with another’s prayer, is beautiful. For me, when I read a blessing from my Siddur (a Jewish prayer book), I feel as though I’m reading from a wise, outside perspective, and it helps me to get a better “look” at how I’m presenting myself to the Creator of the universe. I also understand respect — Would I want to speak to a king while using the toilet? No! But then again, would I be okay speaking to my mother — the one who birthed me and, in great love, fed me from her body, cared for me in illness — through snot-nosed sobs? Definitely.

Prayer is as vulnerable of an experience as it is profound. I think we should be humble, but genuine. Raw, with our best intention. Careful not to take prayer lightly, yet seizing every opportunity to be lifted outside of ourselves. It’s a conversation on a higher plane.

This is my take on it, at least so far, and I look forward to further exploring this topic as I study and learn more. Maybe my opinion will change. Who knows? I’ll pray about it.

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