Let’s talk about prayer… yes, the p-word…. prayer, supplication, petitioning, insert your preferred word for all the ways that we ask for assistance and connection from those ancient and wise powers that hold wisdom deeper than our own. I’ve been heart-deep and spirit first in a potent study around prayer (my preferred word) for about the past 3 years. During this time, I’ve been learning how to reclaim the layered and beautiful ritual essence of what prayer truly is. In my study, I continue to meet the challenges of seeing beyond filters of dogma, beyond the illusions of separation and to acknowledge my own internalized ideologies of unworthiness and lack, that had become the beliefs which shaped my approach to prayer.
Although I’ve prayed throughout most my life and grew up with some sort of loose framework around prayer, I had no idea how to engage with prayer in ways that felt connective and nourishing for my spirit. My early framework did not include a clear understanding of what prayer is, nor was it helpful with navigating why I felt so much disconnection when I prayed. My recent study, of prayer, has illuminated vital aspects of my existing framework that were missing and pieces that were in need of repair. It has allowed me to fill in those missing aspects and mend those pieces with wisdom, that continues to radically transform my approach to prayer. Within this process of reclaiming my prayer practice, I have become more aware of what prayer means to me, how to pray in ways that are connective and effective and how to rest in the mystery of prayer.
Before I share more, it’s important to provide a bit of context and clarity around my approach to prayer, which was formed throughout my youth as a Muslim practicing Islam in the West (America). The foundation of my approach, was poured by many hands in community, formed by the completion of rituals that proceeded prayers and firmed through the repetition and memorization of movements, prayers, doctrine and verse. I hold these experiences that laid my foundation with deep tenderness for the ways they nourished connections to community and allowed me to grow in ways that I could never have anticipated. However, at times, these experiences were incredibly isolating because I was never consistently connected or filled with the presence of God/Spirit/sacred powers that my soul craved and that my mind thought others were experiencing when they prayed. I often thought that I wasn’t doing something right and that the kind of connections/experiences that other people had with sacred powers, were not meant for me. These experiences of disconnection were in no way negative reflections on my foundation in Islam nor were they limited to any specific religion/spiritual traditions I participated in. The doubt and disconnection knelt with me during salat, accompanied me to mass and sat beside me in pews. Looking back this was a clear indication that there was soul level work to be done, that could not be hidden beneath layers of religion nor veils spiritual traditions.
After many years of disconnection and struggles to hold a nourishing prayer practice, I have been gifted the grace to slow down and court hindsight. The gifts of this time-traveler (hindsight), have provided so much sharp clarity around my early experiences and cultivated softness which has expanded my capacity to be in full celebration of my experiences, which have solidified my path to the present moment. Among the many revelations I’ve had, the most profound one has taught me that the connections my soul desired, were not somehow reserved for everyone and elusive only to me. [This revelation was both a relief and a humbling blow to my ego.] The fruits of this courtship have further yielded, a deeper understanding, that my experiences were lacking connectivity, because my framework had many gaps within the foundation that memorization, repetition and rituals could not fill. It also gifted me the fierce truth, that the experiences another has with higher powers is absolutely none of my business. [Hindsight is truly the gift that keeps on giving ya’ll.]
As I have come to recognize many of these gaps and continue to steadily to fill them in, I wanted to share some of what I’ve learned:
1. Cultivate the humility to ask for help. The first and most important wisdom I have been gifted around prayer is the realization that we exist in a macrocosm. While we are divine and amazing beings, there are other powers and beings that exist outside of us, that have vast amounts of wisdom and power. Whether we realize it or not, we exist within a constellation of relationships and connections with these beings within the greater web of consciousness. A big part of living this wisdom has been learning to affirm that I don’t know it all, more than likely never will and that doing it all on my own is not the point of being alive, nor is it a viable option. This life is about being relational, especially with those forces that you cannot see and asking for their assistance.
2. Prayer is about collaboration. One of my teachers recently shared that “Prayer is an invitation to be in collaboration.” This was a mic drop moment for me because no one ever in my childhood and young adult life framed prayer as an opportunity to collaborate. In much of what I learned about prayer, there was not space for me to be in conversation or working in tandem with any kind of powers. My prayers were shaped around the beliefs that I was a powerless, sinful and that I was asking for help that I wasn’t even worth of receiving. This was a dis-empowered and ungrounded approach to prayer, hence my struggle early on to connect and feel nourished in my practice. Fortunately, I’ve been gifted fresh and new experiences that have been deeply nourishing, connective and have shown me how powerful prayer is, when I approach prayer in ways that are empowered (not entitled it’s important to know the difference here), relational and collaborative.
3. Pray for yourself aloud. Prayer is the time and space to be direct and name what you need support around. This was radically different from my earlier experiences, which encouraged me to pray quietly for others first, myself last and not to ask for too much. I had this revelation really land in my heart, when I stepped into traditional West African Orisa practice. I can remember my Baba guiding me to just ask for what I needed support around, as I panicked and felt a shame spiral arising at the thought of praying aloud. I remember initially offering to pray for world peace, equity and big picture prayers for humanity that were truly on my heart because they felt more accessible and less vulnerable to speak that my own inner prayers. I remember him patiently acknowledging those prayers and redirecting me to pray for the things that I needed support with in my life. It took a little while, but I finally got the hang of it and now I literally can’t stop. I love praying aloud and I recognize the importance of being able to speak life into the prayers that I am holding for myself within the depths of my heart, because no one else can do that for me. It’s a huge part of the collaboration process, to be vulnerable and courageous enough to anoint the prayers of your heart with the Ase of your tongue.
4. Listen. When prayers are made, there should ideally be space to listen to the sacred powers that we are extending invitations to collaborate with and inviting assistance from. Answers, insights and wisdom from these powers and the higher-self arrive in a variety of ways though feelings, inner knowing’s, synchronicity, ect. and I’ve missed them, when I didn’t make space to listen. This wisdom has really solidified in my life during my ancestral healing training. Since getting involved in this body of work, I’ve built space into my prayers and life in general for just listening, because I have learned that my prayers are ongoing dynamic conversations and collaborations with sacred powers (Ancestors, Orisa, God, Spirit, Higher self and otherwise). Like many folks, I’ve had countless conversations and collaborations that become disconnected and dysregulated when any single person/being did all the talking and/or all the work, so I strive not live replicate that model especially when it comes to prayer. I also have the intuitive sense that despite the vast amount of love and patience these powers have, it might become borderline annoying and at some point, disrespectful when we don’t make space to listen to their wisdom.
5. Follow-up and follow through. I like to call this part the mirror. This is all about self-awareness and accepting responsibility for that which I’ve found myself asking for and or calling in support around. I call it the mirror because this is where I’ve gained a clear image of whether my actions and behaviors in the world, align with and reflect my prayers. In the instances that they don’t reflect what I’m calling in, the mirror has helped me re-align and refine my actions so that they both support and reflect my prayers. In this portion of my prayer practice I have been gifted the opportunity to co-create the conditions in my life which have the potential to ripen the possibilities for me to meet and help manifest the answers to my prayers. I’ve fallen short many times here because I was not ready to make changes to my behaviors and actions that were needed to reflect and support my prayers. Now that I know better, I do better and I’ve taken to viewing this as the opportunity to not only refine my behaviors and actions so that they reflect my prayers, but to also live my prayers though my presence in the world.
6. Allow yourself to be supported. I have had countless experiences where my prayers have been met in ways that were beyond my wildest dreams. In many of those instances, I found myself experiencing fleeting moments of relief and gratitude followed by overwhelming disbelief, feelings of unworthiness and occasional self-sabotaging behaviors. I know now, that this was the work of my ego battling my soul’s recognition that I needed support from other sources and that it was readily available.
I’ve also had the experience of flat out dismissing and rejecting the answers to my prayers when they arrived in ways that challenged aspects of my life that were familiar and convenient. In those moments, I was so concerned with the packaging of those answers that I could not fully open to receiving the blessings that they contained. Again, this was my ego hard at work, in fear of change and unwilling the accept support in forms that did not adhere to what was familiar and known. Whatever the case, the inability to allow support in when it is gifted began to feel like a form of disrespect and I got the feeling that I was beginning to incur karmic debts regarding the mis-use of these divine resources. The bottom line here: Help is always available and it is up to me to decide if I am willing to receive that help.
7. Spice it up : Enliven, infuse and pepper your prayers with words or phrases in the tongues of your ancestors. Speaking prayers in this way have taken me out of my head and into my heart and invited in new levels of support and magic!
While these pieces of wisdom may seem simple, they have allowed me to consciously reclaim, cultivate and co-create an empowered prayer practice that is my own, rooted in connectivity and collaboration. They have grounded me and accompanied me in various spiritual practices and continue to be a source of nourishment in my everyday life.
Until next time, may your relationship with prayer be empowered and illuminating. May the prayers tucked tenderly within the trough of your heart, crest your lips and greet the light of the sun.
In true spirit of prayer and ancestral goodness,