The first thing I was taught when I began a serious study of philosophy was to define terms. The point being that it is useless to devote energy to debating an idea or position only to discover that you are talking about different things. The classic example given was within the area of philosophy of religion. In debating the existence of God, both sides must have the same understanding of what is meant by the word "God". If one side means the generally accepted monotheistic idea of God and the other is referring to a spinach deity from Alpha Centauri, clearly there cannot be any meaningful discussion or conclusions.
This all came roaring back to me recently during the health crisis of a dear friend. I was encouraged and, in one case, instructed to pray and to pray for a specific outcome. Unbeknownst to the people I was speaking with, we seem to have vastly different ideas of what praying meant or entailed.
I reflected for a while on my personal history with prayer, which, despite my earlier conventional religious background, has deviated wildly from anything resembling the usual forms of petition. In fact, I have never, ever engaged in prayer petitioning anything for myself. The closest I have ever come is, when in moments of despair, a silent scream for "help" has erupted from deep within my soul. It wasn't that I felt unworthy to ask, I just never believed that I knew what was for the best in regards to personal situations. I also never thought it was my job to tell the Creator what to do in any given situation. My great-grandmother would always say, "Be careful what you pray for, because you just might get it." So, in my younger days, any formalized prayer was generalized and for others.
Then, as I studied more about spirituality and the traditions of various religions, I much preferred what is called contemplative prayer, which is much more like meditation than formalized petitions, a listening rather than a talking practice. And, for the greater part of my adult life, this has been the only spiritual practice that has fed me. It almost defied defining of terms because, I suspect, it is unique to the individual and their relationship with the Divine.
But, recently, I have felt a new dimension being added to this experience. And, happily, there was already language available to me in the way it was presented that didn't batter my current understanding. For a little over a year, whenever I feel moved to do so, I attend silent Quaker meetings. There is a lovely feeling in being able to enter into silence with people who hold some similar beliefs, but who put no dogma or expectations on their expression. Through this I have been introduced to the concept of "holding someone in the Light." I won't presume to say what is meant when someone else says this. But, for me, it means going to the deepest spiritual place within myself and carrying my love and concern for the person I am "holding" there with me, so that peace can enter in.
For me, this is the most and the least I can do. For me, it is the work of bringing peace and acceptance to whatever outcome is meant to be. Perhaps, that is essentially what those folks telling me to pray meant as well and we just can't define the term well enough.
"Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul." -- Mohandas K. Gandhi.
Teacher Voices: Kate Bartlett - This is a continuation of my series of interviews with former students who are now teachers. The interview on this page features Kate Bartlett, a teacher ...
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