Thoughts on Prayer


1. You do not have to be good.

You do not have to be self-conscious. You can do it with a child asleep on your chest. You can do it in the shower or in traffic or walking around the block long after the neighborhood sleeps or on the treadmill. You do not have to hold your hands in a certain position or have special beads. You do not have to know exactly what you need. You do not have to know exactly who or what you are praying to. You do not have to stop the tears if they spill onto the pillow. You do not have to censor or edit your words. You do not have to talk out loud. You do not have to be religious. You do not have to speak any foreign languages or have any books.

2. You do not have to be good.

You do not have to be silent. You do not have to get on your knees. You do not have to be quiet or self-deprecating. You do not have to worry about asking for too much or too little or just right. Your prayer does not have to be reasonable. You prayer does not have to make sense. Your prayer does not have to be premeditated or repeatable. You do not have to plan for when you will pray. You do not have to be lofty or fancy or anything other than what you are without effort. You do not have to believe prayer works. You do not have to believe that things will work out.

3. You do not have to be good.

You only have to let the words, the wishes, the hopes and dreams and fears fall from you like rain, stop and start or torrential. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. You only have to let it come over you when it comes over you, without warning or explanation. You only have to tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile, ask yourself: Am I okay, today? Are things manageable in the entirety of this single moment? Meanwhile the world goes on.

4. You do not have to be good.

The prayer might surprise you. You do not have to understand it. You do not have to judge it. You are not being evaluated for precision or poetry. Your prayer is between you and the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain moving across the landscapes, over the prairies and the deep trees, the mountains and the rivers. You do not have to suppress your rage or sugar-coat your despair or put a positive spin on the situation. Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, your prayer will be received, received like an offering, over and over announcing your place in the family of things. Over and over announcing your place in the family of things. Over and over announcing your place in the family of things.

**

All italics from Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese

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11 thoughts on “Thoughts on Prayer

  1. Jane_hates_Dick says:

    Jena, my prayer is that everyone who reads this will feel liberated enough to pray in the way that feels best to them, with no worries of being good.

    Like

  2. Rachelle Mee-Chapman says:

    My teenage foster son came to visit last week. We hadn’t seen each other for a year, because we now live on different continents. We had day after day of very intensive talks.

    It reminded me of the soulcare community I was a part of in Seattle, and how we used to tell people we were “not about conversions, but conversations.” We started seeing conversation as prayer then, but I had forgotten how central it was to me during this year of living-abroad and having little opportunity to practice.

    As a foreigner in a difficult culture, I have no real way of increasing my meaningful conversations, but I am trying to be more present to them when they happen, and to cherish them as sacred–as prayer. Thanks for the reminder!

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  3. Nerdy Renegade says:

    Oh. I love this post. My goodness. What a blessing it is to soak in these words.

    And that photo ~ it took my breath away.

    THANK YOU!

    Like

  4. Beth P. says:

    Dear Jena-san–

    Lovely post. I have loved this poem since first laid eyes on it…
    and I once preached a message on the same line you highlighted.

    But my favorite line is …’you only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.’

    That phrase has gotten me out of in into hot water over a period of years. And I like my bath water very hot!

    Love to you–

    Like

  5. Rowena says:

    I cannot tell you how much I love that poem, and how every time I hear it, even in part, it is just exactly what I need to hear.

    thanks.

    I’d post it on my blog, but I think I’ve already done so 2 or 3 times.

    Like

  6. GailNHB says:

    Yes, yes, yes. Beautiful and powerful and a wonderful encouragement to keep on praying, no matter what it looks or sounds like. So good. Thank you so very much.

    Like

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