Leaving Mormonism was, for me, an act of spiritual self preservation. However, it came at a price of sorts, chief of which was leaving behind many spiritual practices I had spent a lifetime cultivating- especially the practice of prayer. One of the main complications was my concept of deity was rapidly shifting and certainly included more than the “Dear Heavenly Father” I’d prayed to from the time I could form the words in my mouth. My concept of divine was rapidly expanding and pinning my prayers to one being/energy felt arbitrary and stale. Additionally, the way in which I had prayed all those years in captivity felt steeped in the language, patterns, and culture of the church which included layers of subtle indoctrination, internalized shame and a mess of fear. Prayer had been weaponized as a tool I had turned against myself so often (“I am not in tune enough to receive an answer” “I am not praying for the right things” “If I pray with a pure heart I will ‘know’ and I don’t ‘know’ so my heart isn’t pure” etc.). In my tender emergence into self sovereignty I just didn’t have the energy to untangle it all. So, I left prayer (and many other practices) like a heap of dirty laundry on the floor that I knew someday I’d get to sorting.
This fall that someday began to arrive. In an ancestral remediation in a class I was taking, the teacher, Olivia Pepper, suggested praying to Saints and deities of our ancestors as a form of connection. I felt at a loss. I didn’t know how to pray. Of course I could formulate a prayer, but I had not reclaimed this practice for myself and going there felt a bit like walking through a field of land mines, all triggered and ready to blow. And the question of who I would address prayer to was still a bit tricky, the Goddess? The Gods? Earth spirits? Ancestors? All of the above? So I sat with it. I didn’t force myself or push, waiting for the form, the language, the intent of prayer to rise up from some ancient place inside of me.
And then, a few weeks ago, it happened- I felt compelled to pray. I followed the impulse like a small stream meandering through the woods and what flowed was not the scripted language I knew so well, but what felt more like a conversation with the earth. It’s difficult to describe, but I just started praying to the soil, rocks, trees, plants, animals, birds and spirits in my yard and home. I expressed a witnessing of them, made blessings of my observations and love. I expressed gratitude for them. I spoke to them about their lives, my life and our shared space. I have been talking to these beings for awhile, but somehow focussing our conversation as prayer felt different, and made intuitive sense. There was an energy that came through me as I engaged with them in this way.
Several days later I was reading in Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology by David Abram and read these words:
‘The activity that we commonly call ‘prayer’ springs from just such a gesture, from the practice of directly addressing the animate surroundings. Prayer in its most ancient and elemental sense, consists simply in speaking to things- to a maple grove, to a flock of crows, to the rising wind – rather than merely about things. As such, prayer is an everyday practice common to oral indigenous peoples the world over’.
And there it was, an explanation of sorts for what I was experiencing and beginning to cultivate as I reconfigured the practice of prayer in my life. If prayer is ‘a practice of communicating with one’s God’, then communing with other living beings feels right for me. My conception of deity/divine is still amoebic, and may always be so, but at the core is the sanctity of all life and the divinity I encounter with interconnectedness with myself and all living beings.
Thich Nhat Hanh puts this idea beautifully:
‘You carry Mother Earth within you. She is not outside of you. Mother Earth is not just your environment. In that insight of inter-being, it is possible to have real communication with the Earth, which is the highest form of prayer’.
I remember so many times over the years falling to my knees in desperation, pleading in prayer for comfort, help, support, on behalf of myself of people I loved. And usually these prayers would help. Voicing aloud my need, my pain, my despair, my worry was always helpful. It gave me emotional release and helped me clarify what I was feeling and needed. However, prayer to the almighty Father God always had strings attached. Had I been ‘good’ enough to merit his attention and love? My religion taught conflicting answers to this; on the one hand God’s love was unconditional and he always there for me; but on the other there were countless things I could do to drive away his spirit and displease him. Sometimes answers and comfort would come, but sometimes not. I was always second guessing the process and my worthiness.
Praying to these beings around me, with whom I share so much elementally and physically, feels so much closer. The support is tangible. The reciprocity is constant. The relationship made holy through continual communion and exchange of cells and energy. When I cry out for help they are with me, and vice versa. I can lay my body down at the roots of trees and soil I know well and I’m welcomed and held as I cry, my tears gifts they crave. The exchange feels delicious and nourishing, the divinity crackling and sparking between us. And in these prayers there is room for all, room for my ancestors, room for deities ancient and modern, room for other dimensions and realms. These prayers meander in and out of spoken word, laced with the scent of incense smoke, images unfurling in my mind, touch, taste and emotional currents swirling and colliding. Sometimes poetry or song feels right, sometimes moving my body. Sometimes stillness and open palms in my lap.
I am not writing this as an expert, or as instruction for you to follow. Prayer is a secret language of the heart and in my view should not be dictated by anything but your own wider self. And it may be a practice that does not work for you. But, I am curious, what does prayer mean to you? Do you practice it? And how?