Becoming a Prayer

by Elizabeth Cunningham

We usually think of praying as something we do, a prayer as something we say or perhaps read, aloud or silently. But if a singer is one who sings, a writer one who writes, a dancer one who dances, and so forth, we could say that a prayer is one who prays. If we pray, we are prayers.

The daughter of an Episcopal priest, I grew up with the sonorous, sometimes terrifying language of The 1928 Book of Common Prayer. From the General Confession this phrase has always stayed with me. “We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickednesses.” (I still love that plural.)

Quaker Meeting was my first experience of silent corporate prayer. In what I called “the womb of silence” different images of the divine emerged, especially feminine ones. In time, longing for music and ritual led me out of Quaker Meeting to form a non-institutional, earth-centered community. At length I also became an ordained interfaith minister.

Here are some things I have learned/am learning about praying/being a prayer:

If you pray for someone (or something), prepare to be part of the answer.

Raging at the divine is fine. Go for it at the top of your lungs. Exhaust yourself. Then…listen.

Help! Help! is a good prayer. The answer may come in bizarre (often humorous) forms. Be alert.

You can pray with your body; you can pray with your breath; you can pray with your touch; you can pray with your presence.

Singing and dancing and drumming can be prayers.

Aligning with the elements, the waxing and waning moon and sun, the seasons of the earth, the plants and animals is prayer.

Gratitude and kindness are always prayers.

You do not have to have a belief system to pray. You do not have to have a fixed opinion about where the divine resides or if the divine as a noun exists. All our words and images are metaphors to help us connect with the mystery, the intimately known and unknown.

Writing a novel can be a prayer. Dreaming can be prayer. Cooking can be prayer. Eating can be prayer. Making love can be prayer. This list could go on and on.

A recent experience of prayer:

Something I am calling “world sorrow” for lack of another term, when the boundaries between you and “all that is” disappear for a time, and you sorrow with the earth, as the earth. Many people have become this kind of prayer during the oil spill disaster and other world sorrows.

A recent definition of prayer from my tai chi teacher who also teaches shamanic practice:

“When you pray for someone you become, for a moment, the creator.”

I remember those moments when I have seen someone without the filter of my hopes or concerns for them, which can all too easily take on the tinge of judgment or control. Those moments are startling, illuminating, humbling.

Praying without ceasing:

If we become prayers, we can. If we become prayers, we are.

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Elizabeth Cunningham May 18, 2010 - 10:06 pm

Maeve commenting:

"Help! Help! is a good prayer" comes from me in The Passion of Mary Magdalen. So consider the quotation cited. I am sure Elizabeth would not want to plagarize herself–or me. (We didn't have to worry about that in the oral tradition!)

As for writing a novel being a prayer, that is for certain. In fact, by writing The Passion of Mary Magdalen Elizabeth has followed the tradition of St Ignatius of Loyala, whose spiritual exercises involve imaginatively placing yourself into scenes from the Gospels. It's amazing all you have to leave out of a blog post to keep it the right length. Back to the novel tomorrow.

Meredith Gould May 19, 2010 - 2:41 pm

Love this post, Elizabeth and so glad you included praying "with your body" on this list. My yogini years (not that they've ever ended) enhanced my understanding and appreciation of this prayer form. I'm also a big fan of screaming prayer and tell people that if they think God will be offended, their god is way too small!

PS Maeve: what should I make of the fact that the word that came up for verification was "dyked"?

Unknown May 19, 2010 - 2:53 pm

I never thought of prayer as a personal object before, but as the result of praying, so this is a whole different and meaningful meaning for me, but I have to think of it/them this way: pray-er as one who prays.

I like your much more expansive or flexible use of the term, too. I never thought of myself as someone who prays, i.e a prayer, but I recognize what you're saying: in drumming, in making love and in tilling the garden.

Brooke May 19, 2010 - 5:34 pm

Did my Soul tell you to write this just for me?

This post slowed me down, made me remember. Moving with every gesture as prayer today. Very humbling.

My new mantra: "If we become prayers, we can. If we become prayers, we are."

Thank you!

Elizabeth Cunningham May 19, 2010 - 6:54 pm

Hi, Meredith. Maeve here to respond to your question, which took Eliz and me a ridiculously long time to understand (she being a luddite, me being a first century Celt with a profound mistrust of the written, let alone, cyber word). Now I know you mean those strange letters you have to retype to proove you're not a virus or some other nonlife form. So if you want connect dyked to me, I would suggest you remember or re-read the delightful scene in my book where drunken Paulina introduces Mary B and Succula. "Maeve'sh old girlfriend meet Jesushes old girlfriend." Or words to that effect! 😉

DavidASosa May 23, 2010 - 2:08 am

I find prayer to be an invoking of energy in some form, and sometimes just sometimes when you do it you can harness a Divine energy… one that rises in you and does the intended work. Healing, inspiring, stirring emotions, enouraging… I have seen art be very much a form of prayer.
I never quite thought of HeLP! as a prayer but I love the concept and I appreciate you introducing that to me.

Usha June 2, 2010 - 12:55 am

I hope you wouldn't mind if I print bits of this, frame it and put it in my son's room so he can grow up reading it?

Sending out a prayer for joy and good health to you and yours!

Mhairead May 29, 2012 - 9:56 am

This post today on which I stumbled after coming to your blog, but I think I was guided – was an answer to my prayer ~ I thank you ~


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