Originally Posted in Our Community of Humanity at Inner Child Magazine
Real Community Prayer
There is a saying, "Worrying is like praying for what you don't want."
Do you pray? What are you praying for?
Sometimes I wonder truly, "What is prayer?"
Is it the thoughts I have when I meet a relationship challenge? Is it the song in my heart as I bicycle past a beautiful blue lake cradling the clouds on its glassy surface? Is it the words I form and speak in a worship community? Is it the gratitude I feel when I wake up creative and brilliant in the morning or as I watch the light fade from the sky at night, knowing I have lived one more day.
I don't know anyone who would object to these things. Who would deny my right to express and communicate with the world in this way. But for some, the way I pray in my heart or in my community divides me from the community of humanity.
We all have needs: food, shelter, warmth, a sense of connection and more. Do you pray for these things for yourself, for your family, and for your community? Where is the line where you stop praying? Is it a boundary around yourself, your family, your community, your nation, your continent or your species?
Is it possible to pray for everyone? What does that mean? What kind of a time and space commitment is that—praying for everyone and everything? It could take up every minute of every day for the rest of my life. And what kind of life would that be?
If I pray for my neighbor do I not, first have to think about who is my neighbor? Who is your neighbor? Where do you draw the boundary, the line around what is you and yours and what is other?
I have crisscrossed the globe, lived in five countries and worked for short periods of time in a dozen more. I know how to feel like a stranger, a foreigner, a Gringo, an ugly America, a third culture kid, or a global nomad. I feel how people draw the lines around yours and mine.
And so I continue to search for the abundance that knows no limit, where there is enough for all and we are one community of humanity on a connected and vital planet as the title of this page implies. We are joined with all the other living creatures and with even the molecules of the earth and the sky.
Recent research associated health with praying and an expectation that the prayer would be answered. Researchers said, "This study assesses the health-related effects of trust-based prayer expectancies, which reflect the belief that God answers prayers at the right time and in the best way." They also found, "people who endorse trust-based prayer expectancies will have greater feelings of self-esteem; and higher self-esteem is associated with better self-rated health." Krause, N. and R. D. Hayward (2014). "Trust-based prayer expectancies and health among older Mexican Americans." J Relig Health 53(2): 591-603.
When you reach out to ask and thank the universe or power beyond yourself, do you expect a response? How is your health and self-esteem? How is your neighbor's?
In another study which "investigated the effect of Muslim prayer (salat) on electroencephalography (EEG - Brain waves), autonomic nervous activity and heart rate variability," researchers found, "during salat, parasympathetic activity increased [rest and digest] and sympathetic activity [fight or flight] decreased. Therefore, regular salat practices may help promote relaxation, minimize anxiety, and reduce cardiovascular risk." Doufesh, H., F. Ibrahim, et al. (2014). "Effect of Muslim Prayer (Salat) on alpha Electroencephalography and Its Relationship with Autonomic Nervous System Activity." J Altern Complement Med.
Do your daily practices promote relaxation, minimize anxiety and reduce cardiovascular risk [heart attacks] for yourself, your family and your community?
Community, community, community to cultivate your imagination. A 2013 study showed, "many social scientists attribute the health-giving properties of religious practice to social support." The researchers argued "that another mechanism may be a positive relationship with the supernatural, a proposal that builds upon anthropological accounts of symbolic healing. Such a mechanism depends upon the learned cultivation of the imagination and the capacity to make what is imagined more real and more good." Luhrmann, T. M. (2013). "Making God real and making God good: some mechanisms through which prayer may contribute to healing." Transcult Psychiatry 50(5): 707-725.
What do you think is real? Is your community and connections real? My favorite definition of what is real comes from the book, The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams.
The Skin Horse, in the Velveteen Rabbit, "had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else. For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it.
"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"
"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."
"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.
"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."
"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"
"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time.
That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."
"I suppose you are real?" said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.
Researchers go on to support the "claim that a relationship with a loving God, cultivated through the imagination in prayer, may contribute to good health and may contribute to healing in trauma and psychosis. " Luhrmann, T. M. (2013). "Making God real and making God good: some mechanisms through which prayer may contribute to healing." Transcult Psychiatry 50(5): 707-725.
How do you make real connections?
Kimberly Burnham, PhD (Integrative Medicine)
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