A television show that I enjoy, which originally aired in the late 90’s through to 2002, is Dharma and Gregg. It is about a free-spirited woman with two hippy parents who is very spiritual, very loving and very funny. She marries a conservative born and bred lawyer, and the exchange and growth between the two is what makes this such a great show.
At one point Dharma is praying in a hospital chapel, and her spirit guide, a Native American named George whom she connected with personally before he died, comes to her aid and offers advice in her time of need. He hears her praying, having a conversation with whatever deity will listen, and offers these very poignant words which I remember to this very day.
“So, you’re having a conversation with the Great Spirit, the Creator of All Things, and you’re doing the talking?”
This, indeed defines for me the nature of what prayer is seen as today. Even if we are not asking for anything, a lot of prayer consists of a one-way conversation between the individual and the deity/spirit in question. Prayer is a relationship, for me – and as such necessitates a give and take in everything, including both spoken and unspoken words. Too often in prayer, we forget to listen.
Have you ever had to listen to someone go on and on, and know that they are simply enjoying their own drama? If someone comes to you and asks sincerely for advice, then they will tell their tale and then listen – otherwise it is simply a self-indulgence that is ego-based. Communing with deity means a communication from both sides.
Prayer is also not something done only in times of need. How annoying is it when a friend only comes to you when they need something? A good relationship is being there for someone, to listen and aid a friend, and with a Zen attitude, not expect anything in return. This is a huge ask. I’m not terribly great at it – I still have some expectations, though I am working on the philosophy behind the Zen attitude. I’ve had friends that only take from you, physically or spiritually, and give nothing back. It isn’t nurturing, and that is the main difference, I think.
For relationships don’t simply happen – they do require nurturing and attention, kind of like a houseplant, when I come to think of it. There are some friends who I don’t see for years, due to distance, but when I do see them it is like no time has ever passed, no miles could ever come between. It is because these friends nourish me, as I hope I do for them. It is the same with the gods – some I haven’t communed with for years, but they still hold a special place in my heart, which is renewed upon experience. I sincerely hope this doesn’t sound too self-centred.
I’ve since dropped the friends who are no longer nurturing, who only have their best interests to heart. I have been used by several people, and it’s never nice. The same goes with any deity – I will not pray to any god or goddess who is simply in it for themselves. I seek wholesome, nurturing relationships with my gods, my friends and the environment – it is part and parcel of being a Druid.
So what is the nature of Prayer? The nature is to nurture. It is to establish a connection that sustains everyone involved and which makes this world a better place. It is a give and take, listening and responding, with honour and with integrity and to the best of our ability.
Life itself is prayer.