We rekindle our intimacy with the Divine each time we pray.
Last Tuesday we had a pujā here at the farm. Pujā (पूजा) is the Sanskrit word for an act of worship. A pujā ceremony often includes the offering of flowers, fruits, and prayer to a deity. It may involve mantra recitation. And it can include a fire (agni) aspect, wherein that which needs to be closed or completed or sent into the subtle realms can be burned and released from the bondage of form.
For our pujā seven women gathered--three of us live and four remotely. We chanted the Lalita Sahasranama or Thousand Names of the Goddess. While we chanted, we wrote prayers and tuned into this collective moment on the planet. We asked for guidance, help, inspiration, support, healing. We gave thanks for all that we already have. We were serious, playful. silly, warm, thoughtful, fierce. We went through nearly as many forms as the goddess with her thousand names. Here are a few:
Goptrī : She who protects
Samhārini : She who is the destroyer of the universe
Sukha pradā : She who is the giver of happiness
Bhakti gamyā : She who is attained only through devotion
Gudānna prīta mānasā : She who is fond of sweet rice made with raw sugar
Sarvāyudha dharā : She who holds all the known weapons
Majjā samsthā : She who is the presiding deity of the bone marrow
Kālahantrī : She who is the destroyer of time
Mohinī : She who is enchanting
Lalitāmbikā : She who is the Divine Mother, Lalitā
The experience is still with me nearly a week later. I can still feel the resonance of the chanting, the profound beauty of the flowers and our altar, spending hours in prayer with other beings. It was like the experience of being in a temple in India or Bhutan or Nepal. I was transported beyond space and time. I realized that day and have reflected since how powerful ritual is and how our souls come alive in the practice.
My path has involved self-study, scripture and Sanskrit study, discipline, action and reflection, but I've never been as regular with my prayer. I am so grateful to the women here - Sarah and Rochelle - for being dedicated to it. Walking around the farm I frequently come across the evidence of prayer: flower petals on the path, a newly placed Madonna in the center of the labyrinth or a tiny Venus of Willendorf in the middle of a field.
Like so many people, my history with prayer is irregular and fraught. We didn't go to church as a child and I felt shame around this (I grew up in the Bible Belt). I convinced myself that I hadn't learned to pray properly and therefore I shouldn't do it. No one taught me how to pray. Eventually, I learned The Lord's Prayer out of desperation; afraid to be left out when the chanting of it commenced on the odd occasion when I did accompany a friend's family to church. It felt empty to me when I said it in that droning way it's generally done. The first time I heard prayer that moved me was the first time I entered a Jewish Temple and heard chanting in Hebrew.
Eventually, I learned that I do have a deep connection to prayer. I come from a line of Appalachian preachers. My parents were of that generation that was trying to distance themselves from their humble past, trying to raise themselves up in the world, so to speak. So they rejected the fervent devotion of their ancestors, seeing it as provincial and maybe even embarrassing. But the first time I heard my Uncle Elwood preach deep in the mountains, moved by Spirit, and whipping the whole room into a frenzy with his spontaneous prayer, I was sold. I knew I had it in me.
There are as many ways to pray as there are stars in the sky. There is no wrong way to pray unless it's insincerely ... and maybe even that counts for something. In these times, there is something hopeful and important about taking time to remember, honor and communicate to God, Spirit, Mother, ancestors, Gaia, the Cosmos, Creator...whatever you like. It's a beautiful thing and probably more important than we know.
Here is a meditation we practiced on August 4, 2020 to invoke the practice of prayer in the heart. It's about 23 minutes. We go through some of the basic "stages" of prayer:
Gratitude and the offering -- This is how we invoke and invite the Divine into communion. We touch on the reverence we have in our hearts and open in humility by offering what we have to give: It is in giving that we receive. Gratitude is a practice in and of itself and it arises spontaneously when we are present to the awesome wonder of the Divine and all the gifts we are given every day. It's a beautiful place to start when we pray...thank you, thank you, thank you.
Forgiveness -- When our connection to the Divine is established, we can feel grace and complete acceptance. This is a beautiful place for clearing anything that weighs heavy in the heart. Beyond guilt and shame, there is an honest accounting for and atonement for our "sins" and mistakes that is a healthy part of healing and becoming whole. In every mystical tradition there is a place for remorse of conscience (as Gurdjieff called it). I know, personally speaking, that there are days when I know I could have done better as a mom, a friend, a partner, a teacher, a student, a neighbor. When I ask forgiveness, I humble myself, leave the ego behind, and open myself to the possibility of being forgiven, made whole again. This is a great relief and washing, cleansing process for the psyche. The Divine we pray to is the perfect recipient of our confessions and a safe place to lay our burdens down.
Petition -- Despite what Jim Morison says ("You cannot petition the Lord with prayer!"), prayer is the place where we can clearly and sincerely ask for what we need and even what we want. We can ask for help, support, guidance...for ourselves and others. We can ask for healing, insight, or gifts...for ourselves and others. There is wisdom in what the heart most wants and there is strength in asking for help. Prayer is the place where we can get in touch with what we want without shame or restraint. We can really go for it. And in doing so, make our dreams a reality. We are not alone, there is so much help and support available to us. When we ask, we open ourselves to receive. Sometimes we don't even know what we want until we begin to search in the heart for the yearning.
With humility and reverence we approach the Divine in all its infinite forms. With vulnerability and rapture we commune with it in all its forms. Eventually, we come to know ourselves as That. Pray on.