“Now I lay me down to sleep… God bless my mom and dad, and my grandma and grandpa, and Terry, and Margaret, and Jimmy and…”
My fear of leaving anyone out during the blessing phase kept me awake for an hour before I could fall asleep.
I had been raised in the Lutheran Church so rote prayer and ritual were fairly deeply engrained. We went to church on Sundays, said grace before meals, and prayed at bedtime.
As a little girl, I felt that it was up to me to be sure that I did what I could in order to avoid punishment from God and to deserve his blessings. God, for me, at that time was an entity separate from me who had the final say in how things would go in my life. I envisioned him as an old man with a long white beard sitting up on a cloud ~ watching everything I did. It was up to me to please him.
I had received a copy of the New Testament and made it my mission to read the entire book ~ a bit at a time ~ before beginning my evening prayer ritual. As I think back now, I was anything but peaceful as a result and instead felt stressed by the task. It felt empty and I didn’t know what was missing until much later in life.
“Please don’t let such and such happen” “Please let so and so like me” “Please don’t let me get caught” “Please don’t let my family be hurt.”
In my adolescent angst and lingering throughout my twenties, my prayer routine changed. God was still at arm’s length and I usually only remembered to go to him when something wasn’t going right. My prayer life was a way of managing overwhelming fear and self-doubt as opposed to a way of connecting with the Divine.
I started reading ~ a lot. One day I was introduced to A Course in Miracles and my perspective slowly began to shift. So much of what I already believed from a religious point of view started to take on new meaning in my life. These altered interpretations powerfully impacted how I saw my relationship with God. I came to realize that God had many aliases and showed up in different forms for people. God no longer existed as something apart from me and instead became an energetic space that had always been present within me.
I invested time and energy into learning about and challenging my viewpoints allowing me to gain a deeper understanding of who I am and who God is in my life. But it was just that ~ an intellectual concept ~ and not so much a feeling. I knew God existed inside of me but I couldn’t feel it yet.
And then I entered a dark night of the soul.
“Please God just take away this pain.” “Please let me feel better.”
Prayer became a lifeline to the hope that I would eventually emerge from a place of fear, isolation, depression and anxiety.
The Power of Intention
I came across a story in a book by Alan Cohen about a shoemaker whose life was so busy he didn’t have time to pray. He wished he could start and end his day in communion with God but he just didn’t have the time, so he sighed and carried on with his work. An angel came one day to reassure him that his wishful sigh was a more powerful prayer than his words could ever express. God knew his intention and received his message.
Oh, so when I find myself spontaneously saying, “thank God” I am actually expressing heartfelt gratitude and I can trust it is received?
Around the same time, I attended a silent meditation retreat. While we spent most of the retreat in silence, we were also introduced to a few mantras and chants that could be incorporated into meditation. There was also a brief question period where one of the attendees was very keen on getting the mantras just right and also curious to know how many times they should be chanted. Our wise guide reminded us that it was not so much the words as it was the intention. It was not even so much about sitting still with eyes closed as it was about presence.
Oh, so when I am fully engaged in an interaction or activity and I can feel a sense of enthusiasm and energy and I take a moment to notice it, I am demonstrating my capacity to receive? And when I hear my intuition speak, I can trust that I am listening to the divine?
Prayer has evolved into a conversation in my life.
God speaks to me through my emotions to show me what works in my life and what does not.
God sends me feelings and sensations so I can hear the wisdom of my body.
God shows me signs and offers messages through music so I know that my questions have been heard.
God sends people in response to my requests for help.
“Thank you for that experience. Show me. Direct me. Help me learn. Thank you for patience. Thank you for ideas. I feel your presence.”
Prayer has become a sacred conversation with the divine spark within ~ that space that exists at the core of each of us. I can bring myself there whenever I want. I can share anything, anytime, and anywhere.
“Here’s what I’m feeling about… I’m struggling with this decision. How can I move through this challenge gracefully?”
God stepped down from the clouds, lost the beard, took on the essence of spirit, shed the energy of gender, and set up divine residence in my soul. I realized that’s where God had always been and I had just been looking in the wrong places.
Prayer is a space for the expression of my wildest dreams and the confession of my deepest fears. It is the space where I reconnect with the core of my soul and it is available to me in any moment that I choose to be present ~ take a deep breath ~ release a big sigh ~ share what’s on my heart ~ and listen.