13 years of Christian schooling, and no one ever taught me how to pray. I learned what to say before meals and at the beginning and end of the school day; I learned bible verses, hymns, the Our Father and the rosary (never quite got the Creed), but I never really learned to pray. I’d heard it described as a conversation with God (awfully one-sided if you ask me) or as a way of petitioning for something that you or someone else close to you really really wanted (God answers all prayers, but sometimes the answer is “No”). Both of these activities seemed pointless to me, so I never really got into praying in the traditional, on your knees, hands clasped together, whispering fervently to God sense. I’ve dabbled in other spiritual practices – walks in nature, yoga, labyrinths, meditation, art, writing – but I would never call any of these “prayer.”
I’m currently reading Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection, and she mentions praying. Not a lot, but enough to make me wonder if it’s the Texas talking (that’s where she lives). And then I read an article in Yoga International that shifted my paradigm a little on praying. It talked about the two kinds of praying – the ego-centric kind, where you ask for things (like more money, or to find a parking space within three blocks of your apartment in under 20 minutes), and the “genuine” kind, where you connect with, and tap into, your highest potential. This isn’t a new idea to me – my thoughts immediately went to the 12-step prayer (actually known as the Serenity Prayer):
God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and Wisdom to know the difference.
– and I realized that this wasn’t different from what I am already doing in my meditation and yoga practice and it’s not different from all these other things I’ve been reading about and working with around self-compassion, acceptance and authenticity. I decided to experiment with calling it prayer.
Another important part of “genuine” prayer is gratitude. I’ve been to a string of rough births, so I was feeling a little apprehensive when I got called to one yesterday. When I was sitting on the bed with my client, massaging her feet, applying counter-pressure, murmuring words of encouragement and feeling like a good doula for the first time in a long time, I noticed how sincerely grateful I felt. I thought about how even if the baby crashed, or if her labor stalled out, or if we got an obnoxious nurse or doctor, none of it mattered in that moment. A second later her husband came in to ask if she needed anything. “No,” she replied, “Just having you both here is enough.”