Tag Archives: praying

Contemplating prayer

I’m studying prayer at the moment. I’ve been considering prayer practice in different religions as an academic subject, and using what I learn from there to reflect on prayer within the Druid tradition. I am contemplating a book. Now, the old reconstructionists from the early days drew on the Christian prayer tradition, which most of us no longer do. There is a Celtic Christian that some more Christianly orientated Druids draw on. There are a few Iolo Morganwg prayers that seem to come up regularly, but unlike most faiths we do not (as far as I know) have a big body of formal prayer. If you belong to, or know about any Druid order or group that has a formal prayer tradition, please, please let me know.

If you are drawing on a body of written /shared prayer material, also, please drop me a line. If you don’t want to talk publically, but are willing to talk, leave me a message to contact you – from which I can extract your email addy and do it privately.

If you are working with the prayer approach of another tradition – one of those druidry-and scenarios, I would be really interested to hear about that, too.

Question-wise I shall leave it there for today because that could be enough to keep us all very busy. I have a lot more questions though, so expect to hear more shout outs over the coming weeks. I’d like to be able to include some sense of what the current druid approach to prayer looks like alongside the issues raised by the concept of prayer.

If I’m going to quote you, I will be in touch to find out who you want to be for the purposes of being quoted. If people want to remain anonymous, I can handle that. We can go the ‘some druids tell me’ route.

In the meantime, I’m slowly frying my brain with research. I figure this time I’ll do the research first then try and write something. Unlike Druidry and the Ancestors, where I got half way through and realised I needed to go back to the beginning and study a few things.

Also, if you’re not a druid and want to pile in, go for it, the more perspectives the merrier!

Gods of our childhood

Exploring the ways in which people appeal to deity, it looks like for many, both contemporary and historical, gods are great uber-parents to be whimpered to when we want something sorting out. Some of the requests we offer up are petty, many are self serving. If we assume that life should not be crappy, should not cause us misery, should not deprive us of what we love or fail to give us what we desire, then going ‘oi, God, fix it!’ makes a degree of sense. One of the things atheists pick on theists for, is this constant running to mummy goddess and daddy god, for intervention that seldom comes, rather than facing our own challenges. Of course, not everyone relates to deity that way, but for today I want to ponder those who do.

We come into this world powerless. It is down to others to feed us and keep us warm. We cry, and help comes to us. Or doesn’t. We may be comforted, bottoms cleaned, food provided, or we may be left to howl in the darkness. In later life, we won’t remember much of this, but I would be prepared to bet that our first impressions stay with us. That lingering desire for the parent god who takes away the bad smell and brings the milk and honey, is not so unnatural. How much of our development as spiritual people might hark back to our early childhoods? Some sense of whether or not our prayers for intervention will be answered by benevolent powers might owe a lot to time in the cradle. But, what of those who are neglected? Do they hunger for the parent god who never came, and seek another one in later life?

If this isn’t total madness, then I suspect the transition of growing out of powerlessness, and learning that parents cannot do everything, has got to be a critical part of the journey. On Monday we had a school trip. A handful of inappropriately dressed girls, struggling with the cold, were quite angry about having to wait outside. The expectation that someone should be there to fix it, right now, was evident. My own lad, in his wet weather gear, quiet, accepting, comfortable and a bit bemused by the girls. How much you expect to have to cope with for yourself, how much you assume you are entitled to have fixed, how stoical you are, and what you see as a big deal or no real problem, all shapes your relationship with reality. I would bet it also informs how you think about deity.

When we’re in crisis, the desire that something, someone, sweep in and rescue us, may be natural enough, but it isn’t always helpful. Often what we most need to do is figure out how to rescue ourselves. Life is so full of setbacks for so many people. Letting go of a sense of entitlement, or disbelief at reality, and working with what is, makes life a lot easier. When you are inclined to either deal with things or accept them, there’s not a great deal of reason to go bothering a deity about your problems. You might still talk to them, though, because there is more to faith than applying to the uber-parent to have your psychic nappy changed.

My belief, which to me seems ‘druid’ to me, is that it’s my job to sort out my problems. I have prayed, in crisis, I admit it. Usually what occurs to me is ‘just let me survive this’ or ‘I could do with some insight here’. I find it hard to imagine that any deity is going to swing into my life. But at the same time, there have been periods of such strange coincidence and unlikely connections that I’ve wondered if other hands were twitching the threads of reality a bit. Just because that might happen sometimes does not incline me to think I can have it for the asking. I’m definitely animist in outlook, I believe in the idea of spirits, presences, things that are here and not so tangible. I assume they have their own intentions and desires. If mine overlap, that may help me, if they don’t, it won’t. Pretty much the same as dealing with people, in fact. There could be kindness and compassion, but I’m not counting on it.

I remember being young enough to be making the transition from seeing my parents as omniscient and omnipotent, to having to deal with them being people, and sometimes wrong, and not always perfect. Initially, it came as a bit of a shock, but many things do when you’re that size. I think the longer you go with gods for parents, the longer you spend insulated from life, the bigger an adjustment it is when you have to start fending for yourself. Which is why I’m not attracted to the idea of gods as super-parents, making everything ok and smoothing the way for us. I want to stand on my own two feet when I can.

Praying in Public

There’s the debate about prayer in school in America, whilst here in the UK, a council was taken to court and told that it couldn’t include Christian prayer at the start of meetings. There are noises about changing the law to accommodate the council. Time for me to dust off the soap-box I think.

I have no problem with anyone praying any time they get the urge. I see prayer as something inherently private, between you and whatever you’re trying to talk to. However, collective prayer has some rather different functions. If we’re all chanting along together, all intoning the same lines following the lead of the (usually) man at the front, we’re not entering into personal relationship with the divine. We’re undertaking ritual, sure. We may even find meaning and resonance in those words. But we are not creating anything, expressing anything of ourselves, or, I suspect, being open to hearing anything that might come back to us.

Shared prayers in a druid context have the effect, I find, of reinforcing bonds of community. We swear, by peace and love to stand, heart to heart and hand in hand… I wouldn’t use them in a situation where there might be people who didn’t feel that way. I’ve shared them with people who did not subsequently honour that ideal at all, and I’m afraid that comes to mind now any time I do share prayers. But mostly I don’t go for the shared, scripted variety. I like prayer better when it flows in the moment, crafted by individual contributions from all those present, when we aren’t one clear voice, but a multitude of different voices, sharing, overlapping, contradicting.

I’m wary of anything that smacks of conformity or for that matter, indoctrination. If we get children to intone words where they do not fully understand the meaning, that’s troubling. For prayer to be spiritually meaningful, it has to be felt, and meant. If a person is repeating what they’ve learned by rote, it’s not about spirit, it’s about doing what you’re told. Tom has a lovely story about being at a Catholic school, as a very young human, and not really knowing the words, and starting each day with “Hail Mary, full of grace, hubada, hubada, fruit of the loom Jesus,” being his best guess. Which is no more or less meaningful than anything else we regurgitate without understanding it.

The solution seems so obvious to me. Allow a little time for prayer, be that at the start of a meeting, the school day, or wherever else you want it. Invite people to take a few moments to clear their minds, consider what is before them and what they are called upon to do, and to have a few moments to address that in any way they see fit. Spiritually or not-spiritually. With prayer, or meditation, or just gazing out of the window. It’s good to give people time and spaces in which to contemplate. A little more thinking and a little less talking would improve a good many meetings, I suspect. Anyone who does want to pray in a formal way, can mutter to themselves as required, free from the influence of what anyone else feels the urge to mutter. A moment to draw breath. A moment to think, to seek perspective, asses priorities. We could all use a bit more of that. Bother a god at the same time if you like!

But that would be a lot like freedom of expression, and I suspect that for those who want to enforce prayer, this was never a priority. It’s not about whether you want to pray, it’s about whether someone else wants the power to tell you when and how, and to make you mouth along with the words.

Hubada hubada

Fruit of the loom…