But I am a person, too, and that in itself leads to prayer. We all pray, whether religiously based or not. Our wishes, our reflections, our thoughts that are larger than ourselves, our issues of morality—all these and more are forms of prayer. And yet wars have been fought, countries have been formed, relationships have been built and broken, and whole eras of history have been dedicated to this one thing.
Prayer, the mission for a personal sense of rejuvenation and reflection, is both the most complex and the most simple action for humans. We are drawn to it, it becomes the home of our soul, no matter what spiritual practice we subscribe to. And yet I believe that it will never be solidified or defined, because I see prayer as a living, breathing entity of its own creation, which makes it so appealing to us mere mortals with harsh, vivid lives who need the hope of some higher power or concept to survive. It is truly liberating to be able to send my emotions out and believe that they are ending up somewhere instead of just being lost in the ether. So I see no sense in continuing to argue over the right way to pray. Maybe it's my background as a Quaker with a mission for peace that makes me want to end this age-old conflict, but I truly believe that we all have an individualized guidebook to God within ourselves.
A mere conversation is not enough to capture the complexity of prayer. And yet some are forever trying. People talk as if it were some sort of competition, with “good effort!” ribbons for most, except those select few on the podium. They talk as if prayer were theirs, as if they have accomplished the impossible and are somehow better for it. They speak as if it is a secret society in which those selected are graced with some higher power removing the strain of everyday life from their shoulders.
But by elevating prayer to something that must be practiced, with constant drive and force of will, people lose sight of the simple prayer of everyday life. By making it a destination, people miss the prayer of the journey. I don't believe in prayer as a competition. I think prayer is the commonality of our internal struggles and our conversations with God, and this is complex, because there are no words to capture the way He speaks back. There is no right or wrong way to pray, and people who say there is are losing sight of the overwhelming purpose of the struggle to find inner peace.
Praying is hard. It must come from within, from a part of yourself that is twisted and complicated and beautifully, organically you. I find prayer in the way that everything is amplified. I find prayer in the crisp number of window panes that I count in Quaker meeting for worship. I find prayer in the anxious shuffling of Skechers sneakers against wooden floors before the teacher comes in to lead a parade of jostling bodies, too full of the vibrancy of life to keep silent, out into the classroom. And that vibrancy, that buzzing and shuffling, seems more full of prayer to me than the perfect, clean silence left behind.
I find prayer in what surrounds me, and I find prayer in the fluid motion of thoughts that pass through my head. I find prayer in that moment where I don't need to be doing anything except thinking, and I find prayer in the ease of letting my body fold into the familiar, uncomfortable chair, willing my muscles not to twitch the spelling of my discomfort. This is the way I pray. These pure, simple, graceful moments carry my prayers from my heart out into the beyond. For in those moments, I am overcome by the grace of an inhaled breath.
To pray, you must allow yourself to be unsettled and uncomfortable and unfocused and unproductive. In this way, prayer is the most natural and simple act in the universe. To pray, you must lose yourself within the chambers of your heart and feel your surroundings and senses trickle away like sand under your toes, pulled by something much greater than your being. In this way, prayer is the most challenging and complex task of our short time on Earth. I am reminded of this every time that I sit down in an official place of worship and every time that I am faced with a personal daily challenge.
To my mind, there is no sense in discussing the “right” way to pray. There is no sense in broiling conflict over prayer mats versus prayer beads, because the point of prayer is to embrace conflict, both internal and external, and to love it all the same. Simplicity. Complexity. Humanity. They are all intertwined in prayer; without one, the others would simply fall away. So whether I am faced with the perfection of a plain candle flame or the pain of a heart-wrenching moral dilemma, I must stop. Think. Breathe. Live. Pray.
Gracie Griffin is a senior at Yarmouth High School and a Young Friend at Portland Friends Quaker Meeting. She hopes to study journalism in college and continue on into the publishing industry.
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